Former Baltimore Mayor Pugh Sentenced for Book Sales Scheme

February 27, 2020 Updated: February 27, 2020

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced to three years in prison after she pleaded guilty to federal fraud, tax, and conspiracy charges for a scheme involving her children’s book, “Healthy Holly.”

While in court, the 69-year-old asked District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow for mercy and issued an apology “to anyone I have offended or hurt through my actions,” reported local media. “No one is more disappointed than me,” Pugh said. “I did turn a blind eye. I did, and sanctioned many things I should not have.”

Prosecutors had sought a five-year prison term for Pugh, a Democrat who had served in various Baltimore public offices for decades. But her lawyers wanted a more lenient prison sentence of one year and one day, noting that she entered a guilty plea and is a first-time offender.

“I accept responsibility. I accept total responsibility. I’ve plead guilty. I’m sorry,” she said, reported the Baltimore Sun.

Chasanow said the sentence would be followed by three years of probation. Pugh pleaded guilty to four federal charges related to the scam in November.

“I have yet frankly to hear any explanation that makes sense,” the judge said in court. “This was not a tiny mistake, lapse of judgment. This became a very large fraud. The nature and circumstances of this offense clearly I think are extremely, extremely serious.”

In the scheme, sales of the “Healthy Holly” book went to a charity where Pugh served on the board, alleged federal prosecutors, who also said she disguised the proceeds as donations to her reelection campaign. The former mayor then used the money to purchase and renovate a home, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.

Pugh was elected as mayor in 2016 after gaining prominence during the “Black Lives Matter” protests over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, who had died in police custody. She resigned in 2019 following mounting pressure after reports about her involvement in the scheme surfaced.

U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, following her guilty plea, described the crime as a “significant betrayal of the public’s trust,” especially as Baltimore faces “significant problems,” WBAL reported.

Justice Department officials alleged that she stashed the “Healthy Holly” books in her cars, her home, her offices, and at a local war memorial. Pugh was accused of double-selling some of the books that went to local schools and had failed to deliver others.

“From November 2011 until March 2019, Ms. Pugh conspired with Gary Brown to defraud purchases of ‘Healthy Holly’ books in order to enrich themselves, promote Ms. Pugh’s political career and fund her campaign for mayor,” Hur said. “Mr. Brown helped Ms. Pugh solicit nonprofit organizations and foundations to buy the ‘Healthy Holly’ books.”