Ex-Baltimore mayor set to be sentenced in book sales scheme

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BALTIMORE (AP) – Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday for a lucrative, yearslong scheme in which she sold her self-published children’s books to nonprofits and foundations to promote her political career and fund her run for mayor.

The scandal has shaken Maryland’s largest city, which for years has struggled with grinding poverty, political mismanagement, record crime rates and police abuses that led to massive riots. And it made a mockery of Pugh’s inaugural promise to restore trust in Baltimore’s leaders.

Pugh, 69, pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges in November. The veteran Democratic politician was elected mayor in 2016 and resigned in May after authorities began investigating bulk sales of “Healthy Holly” books that netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Pugh’s attorneys have suggested a sentence of 366 days, while prosecutors have asked for nearly five years.

A visibly stressed Pugh walked into the courtroom on Thursday flanked by her attorneys. She teared up before the hearing began when she turned around in her seat and saw friends and others sitting in the packed courtroom. Her attorney handed her a box of tissues and briefly rubbed her back.

Pugh expressed regret for her actions in a video submitted to the court Wednesday night by her attorneys.

“I just want to apologize to the citizens, to young people, to partners, my friends, everyone I’ve offended,” she said. “I accept total responsibility. I’ve pled guilty. I’m sorry.”

Prosecutors accused Pugh of double selling the books, keeping many for self-promotion purposes and failing to deliver them to institutions they were purchased for, including the Baltimore City Public Schools. Pugh used the proceeds to fund straw donations to her mayoral campaign and buy a new house, according to the sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors.

Pugh, with the assistance of longtime aide Gary Brown Jr., carefully carried out the scheme over more than seven years, starting when she was a Maryland state senator and into her tenure as Baltimore’s mayor. Her clients included the University of Maryland Medical System, health insurers and other organizations.

Brown and another Pugh associate, Roslyn Wedington, also await sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax fraud.

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh, center, and her attorney Steven Silverman, right, arrive for a sentencing hearing at U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. Pugh pleaded guilty in 2019 to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
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