- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2019

“Healthy Holly,” a children’s book series written by former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, was supposed to be a book about a young black girl who likes to exercise and eat nutritious food.

Instead, it is the center of a spoiled scheme.

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for Maryland announced Wednesday that Ms. Pugh has been indicted by a federal grand jury on a total of 11 charges related to wire fraud and tax evasion. She is accused of defrauding purchasers of her “Healthy Holly” books and then using the profits from those purchases to fund her political campaign and personal expenditures.


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According to the indictment, Ms. Pugh sold her “Healthy Holly” books directly to nonprofit groups since 2011 but did not deliver those orders and even double-sold books with the purchasers’ knowledge or consent. She used the profits to fund straw donations to her mayoral campaign and to buy and renovate a house in Baltimore.

The indictment, unsealed Wednesday, also says Ms. Pugh concealed from the IRS that she created false business expenses to offset the income she made from the book sales and filed false tax returns. For example, in 2016, Ms. Pugh indicated she made $31,000 and owed about $4,000 in income taxes; in fact, her taxable income was $322,000, and she owed about $102,000 in taxes that year.



Ms. Pugh faces one charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, two counts of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

If convicted, she would face up to 20 years in prison on each wire fraud count, and five years for each tax evasion count. The federal government also will seek to seize her house and $770,000 as part of any sentence.

She is scheduled to appear 1 p.m. Tuesday for arraignment at U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow. Ms. Pugh is expected to surrender to U.S. marshals before her arraignment, according to a press release from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Ms. Pugh’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

“Our elected officials must place the interests of the citizens above their own,” said Robert K. Hur, U.S. attorney for Maryland. “Corrupt public employees rip off the taxpayers and undermine everyone’s faith in government. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners will zealously pursue those who abuse the taxpayers’ trust and bring them to justice.”

Two Baltimore city employees linked to the former mayor’s scandal — Gary Brown Jr., a former Pugh aide, and Roslyn Weddington, former director of the Maryland Center for Adult Training (MCAT) — have pleaded guilty to similar charges.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Ms. Pugh issued checks to Brown from “Healthy Holly” sales to be cashed and donated to her campaign in the names of straw donors totaling about $35,000.

In Brown’s plea agreement, he said he helped Ms. Pugh orchestrate the scheme, including reselling books that previously had been purchased for and donated to Baltimore City Public Schools.

Brown — when he was chairman of the MCAT Board of Directors — helped Weddington avoid taxes at the training center by taking her off the payroll, wiring money from MCAT to his bank account, then writing checks to Weddington in the amount of or greater than her salary, which was more than $80,000 per year, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Ms. Pugh resigned in May, a couple months after The Baltimore Sun reported that she had accepted a payment of $500,000 from University of Maryland Medical System for 100,000 books at a time when she served on a state Senate committee that funded the hospital system and served on its board.

“Rest assured that we are continuing to look at all the potential criminal charges that could be brought,” Mr. Hur said of the purchasers of the books.

“This is a message to anyone considering elected service. You don’t get into public service to become rich. You do it to help people,” Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said Wednesday at a Board of Estimates meeting. “Baltimore faces a crisis of crime and a crisis of trust. We must recommit ourselves to cleaning up city government and addressing the life and death issues in our neighborhoods.”

Ms. Pugh is the second Baltimore mayor in the last decade to resign because of a corruption scandal. Former mayor Sheila Dixon resigned in 2010 after she was found guilty on a misdemeanor embezzlement charge.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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