State Roundup November 22, 2019

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DISGRACED MAYOR PLEADS GUILTY: Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy and tax evasion Thursday, publicly acknowledging wrongdoing involving her “Healthy Holly” book deals for the first time since the Sun began exposing them in March, reports Luke Broadwater and Kevin Rector.

  • Pugh, 69, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion. Pugh pleaded not guilty to seven counts of wire fraud, reports Holden Wilen and Jessica Iannetta for The Baltimore Business Journal.
  • The maximum sentence for the charges she pleaded guilty to is 35 years in prison, but the sentencing guidelines agreed to by prosecutors and Pugh’s attorneys put the suggested sentence in the range of five years in prison, reports Kevin Rector in the Sun. Looking at what’s next for Pugh, he reports the judge could sentence Pugh to no time or the maximum.
  • U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur called Pugh’s fraud scheme “complex and sophisticated,” reports Heather Cobun in The Daily Record. He pointed out that she and former aide Gary Brown Jr., who pleaded guilty to related charges last week, spent years enriching themselves and hiding profits.
  • What made the arrangement corrupt, prosecutors said, was that Pugh sold more books than she printed, reports Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. She was using the connections she built as a member of powerful legislative committees — and her service on nonprofit boards — to sell tens of thousands of books at a time, pocketing tens of thousands of dollars per transaction.
  • The disgraced former mayor of Baltimore pleaded guilty Thursday to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges in a case involving sales of her self-published children’s books and exposing once again the depths of corruption in the city, reports Brian Witte and Regina Garcia Cano for the AP.
  • Listening to federal prosecutors recite the facts behind each charge, Pugh shook her head at least 10 times as if in disagreement, reports Fern Shen in Baltimore Brew. Yet each time U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow asked Pugh if she agreed that the facts as recited – accounts of faking documents, lying to people and cheating on federal income taxes to enrich herself and help her political campaign – were true, Pugh answered: “I do.”
  • Pugh, who swept into office three years ago pledging to restore integrity in a city grappling with corruption, entrenched economic inequality and pervasive violence, pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal crimes tied to a children’s book series she wrote, reports Timothy Williams for the New York Times.
  • WYPR’s Tom Hall hosts a special edition of Midday where he spends the hour talking with reporters and legal experts about the guilty plea.

KIRWAN COMMISSION VOTES FOR EDUCATION PLAN: A Maryland commission studying how to improve the state’s education system endorsed a plan Thursday that eventually would require $4 billion more to be spent each year on public schools, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun. The state and local governments would increase their education spending gradually to fund expanded prekindergarten, improved career and technology training, increased teacher salaries and more resources for high-poverty schools.

  • The proposal is expected to be one of the top issues in the upcoming 90-day session that begins in January, reports Brian Witte for the AP. Under the plan, the state would contribute about $2.8 billion and local governments would contribute about $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2030.
  • Maryland Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley was one of three members who voted against the recommendation, reports Danielle E. Gaines for Maryland Matters. He cited concerns about long-term funding for the proposal, as well as disappointment that the commission hadn’t prioritized reforms to guide state spending in the event of an economic downturn. 19 members voted for the proposal.

HOWARD REDISTRICTING APPROVED:  After nine packed work sessions, several protests, thousands of pages of comments, and scrutiny of neighborhoods and school maps, the Howard County Board of Education voted Thursday to move about 5,400 students to new schools for the 2020-21 academic year, according to the school system, reports Jess Nocera for the Howard County Times.

  • The plan — estimated to move roughly one in 10 students for the 2020-2021 academic year — was not as far-reaching as supporters had hoped, and not as limited as opponents wanted, reports Donna St. George for the Post. The board’s votes on a lengthy series of boundary revisions were split.

PARROTT ANNOUNCES IN SIXTH: State Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington) traveled nearly 200 miles Thursday, reports Glynis Kazanjian for Maryland Matters. He stopped in five counties along the way to announce his candidacy for the 6th Congressional District seat — one of Maryland’s most politically gerrymandered districts.

ASBESTOS BACKLOG: With a massive backlog of asbestos cases in Baltimore City Circuit Court, the Law Offices of Peter Angelos continues to push the Maryland General Assembly to permit the firm to consolidate the cases, reports Louis Krauss for The Daily Record. Despite efforts by the court to substantially increase the number of asbestos cases tried each month, a backlog of nearly 28,000 active cases remains.

VAPING BAN PROPOSED: The Maryland General Assembly will consider whether to ban flavored vaping products when it meets next year as state and federal officials continue to search for solutions for the surge in youth vaping, reports Tim Curtis for The Daily Record.

  • Sales are down at vape shops in Frederick County, in part because of the increase in Maryland’s minimum legal smoking age from 18 to 21, reports Erika Riley in The Frederick News-Post. But mostly, one store owner said it’s because of recent news coverage that e-cigarette and vaping-related lung injury has claimed 44 lives since the first death in New York in the beginning of October.

OPINION: VAPING TARGETS AFRICAN AMERICAN YOUTH:It’s time to face Big Tobacco head on and not let them continue to entice and hook our state’s youth with these addictive and dangerous flavored tobacco products, writes Del. Darryl Barnes in commentary for The Daily Record. Barnes, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said menthol has been heavily targeted toward the African American community.

NEW $463 MILLION BRIDGE APPROVED: The Maryland Transportation Authority approved a replacement for the bridge that carries U.S. 301 traffic over the Potomac River on Thursday, reports Bruce DePuyt for Maryland Matters. But it rejected a recommendation from Charles County leaders to include a barrier-separated bike and pedestrian path.

PG REGULATING SMALL CELL SITES: Prince George’s County Council has adopted local regulations for 5G small cells, reports Natasha Mehu for the Maryland Association of Counties blog Conduit Street. Prince George’s joins other Maryland jurisdictions who have taken steps to regulate the sites.

SCHOOL SAFETY DISCUSSED IN ST. MARY’S: Several students concerned about school safety spoke up as students, teachers and other community members gathered for the opportunity to interact Wednesday evening with St. Mary’s state legislators, reports Madison Bateman for the St. Mary’s Enterprise.

WEBSITE JUDGE INFO RELEASE CHALLENGED: The Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts will appeal a judge’s ruling ordering it to disclose a key to identify District Court judges in the public Case Search database, reports Heather Cobun for The Daily Record. Judges’ names are not displayed in District Court cases in the database but rather are represented by a three-character code.

STATE ASKS FOR IDEAS FOR 270: Drivers traveling daily on Interstate 270 from Frederick County to D.C. often have long commutes, and Maryland is taking suggestions on moving traffic faster between Gaithersburg and Frederick, reports Mike Murillo for WTOP.

OPINION: RETHINKING DRUG LAWS:Former Baltimore Police Officer Samuel Johnson Jr. writes in Maryland Matters that he bought into the “war on drugs” agenda under the guise that enforcing these laws was critical to ensure public safety, but looking back on it “we were all just prisoners of the moment.” They never thought about the collateral damage being done to the individuals or communities that these laws were enforced in, or how a felony charge or conviction could be a death sentence for someone’s future.

TANEYTOWN CASE CLOSED: The Maryland Court of Appeals decided not to impose penalties against the City of Taneytown for an open meetings violation that resulted in a lawsuit, reports Jon Kelvey for the Carroll County Times.