Catherine Pugh gets 3 years for fraud, conspiracy in ‘Healthy Holly’ book scandal

Catherine Pugh gets 3 years for fraud, conspiracy in ‘Healthy Holly’ book scandal

Catherine Pugh gives her inauguration speech at Baltimore City Hall on Dec. 6, 2016. The mayor resigned May 2, 2019, one month after taking a leave of absence. MarylandGovPics photo)

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced in federal court on Thursday afternoon to 3 years in federal prison — closing the chapter on both the nearly year-long corruption scandal that rocked the city, as well as a political career that spanned more than two decades.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of five years for Pugh for selling her self-published “Healthy Holly” series of children’s books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she was a board member as well as other non-profits that did business with the city.  The Baltimore Sun broke the story last March. She received payments totaling more than $850,000 for the books, according to prosecutors.

Pugh’s lawyers had asked for a sentence of one year and one day, citing her many years of service and the fact that she had lost her job and her standing in the community.

At her sentencing in Baltimore, Pugh — who turns 70 next month and, as usual, was impeccably dressed and coiffed — asked U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow for lenience and apologized for her actions.

But the judge not only refused to spare Pugh from prison — in spite of the scores of letter prominent individuals wrote to the judge on Pugh’s behalf — but also ordered her to pay $400,000 to UMMMS and nearly $12,000 to the Maryland Auto Insurance Fund, which bought some of the books. The judge also ordered that Pugh forfeit her home in the city’s tree-lined Ashburton neighborhood as well as $17,800 in campaign funds. The judge said Pugh used her reputation for her own benefit and damaged the city.

Last November Pugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion. In the plea deal on her 11-count indictment, prosecutors agreed to drop seven counts of wire fraud. Her guilty plea followed the revelation last March that she had sold thousands of copies of “Healthy Holly” books to UMMS. She received several payments while she served on a health committee in the Maryland Senate and while she served as mayor, prosecutors said.

Pugh took a leave of absence on April 2, 2019, saying that she was recovering from pneumonia. Exactly a month later, under intense pressure to step down, she resigned.

Prosecutors later said that Pugh had laundered a $20,000 contribution to her mayoral campaign from a developer through the boutique in Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood that she co-owned with city Comptroller Joan Pratt. Pratt has denied any knowledge that the money was a campaign donation.

Pugh still faces a trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to fight perjury charges. State prosecutors say Pugh neglected to reveal her book deal with UMMS on financial disclosure forms while she was a state senator. That trial is scheduled to start on May 14.

Pugh was elected the city’s third female mayor in the fall of 2016, a tumultuous time for a city still raw from the April 2015 riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray. One of her biggest tasks as mayor was implementing a court-ordered federal consent decree for the Baltimore Police Department.

Pugh had been elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1999 and later served in the Maryland House of Delegates then the state Senate.

Former Mayor Kurt Schmoke was one of five people who spoke in court Thursday on Pugh’s behalf. Afterwards, he told reporters that when he visited Pugh a few weeks ago, “it was hard for her to complete a full sentence without crying.”

“It was a very serious matter for the entire city but I think that we can get on to the prospect of healing, now look to the future,” he said. “But Catherine Pugh never underestimated how serious this was not only to her but to the citizens of Baltimore.”

In a 16-minute video her defense team released on Wednesday and that was submitted to the court, Pugh repeatedly said she was sorry for her actions. As soft music played in the background, a solemn-looking Pugh said in part in the video, “I just want to apologize to the citizens, to young people, to my partners to friends, everyone I’ve offended, everyone I’ve hurt and the city’s image by pleading guilty, by being involved in all of this that has led me here today…”

After her sentencing, Pugh spoke to reporters outside the courthouse. “Again I’m apologetic to the citizens of Baltimore. Nobody loves Baltimore more than I do.”

“…I know that Baltimore will move forward. We’ve got some great people out there, I hope that will take over the realms as mayor. What I want the citizens of Baltimore to do is to continue to believe in the future of our city.

“And again I apologize to the city, the state, and I had folks who flew in from across the country today — so I apologize to them as well. Sometimes when you think you’re doing one thing — as my mother used to say, it’s not what you intend to do, it is what you do. And all of us pay the price for the things that don’t turn out the way that they should turn out.”

Pugh is expected to report to prison no later than April 13.

Mayor Jack Young declined to comment on Pugh’s sentence, as did Gov. Larry Hogan.

About The Author

Regina Holmes

Contributing editor Regina Holmes has worked as a journalist for over 30 years. She was an assistant business editor at the Miami Herald and an assistant city editor at Newsday in New York City, where she helped supervise coverage of 9/11, anthrax attacks and the August 2003 Northeast Blackout. As an assistant managing editor of the Baltimore Examiner, she helped launch the free tabloid in 2006. Before joining Maryland Reporter, she was the managing editor for Washington, D.C.-based Talk Media News, where she supervised digital, radio and video production of news reports for over 400 radio stations. The Baltimore native is a graduate of Vassar College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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