BALTIMORE, MD- Disgraced former mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, has been sentenced today for the federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and two counts of tax evasion to which she plead guilty last November.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a five-year sentence for the crimes listed above.
The former 69-year old mayor, however, lucked out and was only ordered to serve three years in prison as well as three years of probation.
Additionally, she has been ordered to pay just about $412,000 in restitution as well as forfeit nearly $670,000 in property, which includes funds in her campaign account as well as a house that she purchased following her election.
Pugh was involved in a self-published children’s book scandal, a series called “Healthy Holly,” where she was accused of defrauding nonprofits with the sales, as well as covering up hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from the University of Maryland Medical System and Kaiser Permanente, as well as the Baltimore public school system.
BREAKING: Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is sentenced to 3 years in prison, followed by 3 years probation after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion. https://t.co/P4V833SNkQ
— The Baltimore Sun (@baltimoresun) February 27, 2020
The indictment stated that Pugh received nearly $800,000 for her books.
The fraud was a cover up to help fund her election and re-election campaigns. The crimes had been ongoing from November 2011 through their discovery in March of 2019.
Pugh had accepted payments for thousands of books that were never even printed, according to prosecutors.
In April of last year, the FBI raided her home to collect evidence, at which point she lied to agents and said her personal phone was in Philadelphia with her sister. One agent called her phone and it was heard vibrating in her bedroom.
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) February 27, 2020
Said the prosecution:
“Almost immediately, the agents heard a vibrating noise emanating from her bed. Pugh became emotional, went to the bed and began frantically searching through the blankets at the head of the bed. As she did so, agents starting yelling for her to stop and show her hands.”
Ahead of the sentencing trial, Pugh just couldn’t help herself but to continue in her fraudulency.
This time, it came in the form of a video sent to the courts in an attempt to tug on their heart strings and hopefully avoid consequences for the aforementioned crimes. Which, if you’ll recall, she plead guilty to.
The near-13-minute video was full of apology, as well as highlights of all the “good work” she had done over the past years for the City of Baltimore and the civil rights movement.
It included Pugh talking about her life story, as well as her friends talking about how great she is. It looked more like a documentary for black history month than a video one would send to a court of law.
In the video, Pugh can be heard saying:
“I messed up. I really messed up. I accept total responsibility. I pled guilty and I’m sorry. I don’t know any other words that could be stronger. I am so sorry.”
Her attorneys also sent a letter to the court to ask for reduced sentencing saying Pugh had “suffered enough” these past months and that the trial and potential for imprisonment has taken a “toll on her mental health.”
Unfortunately for Pugh, the documented plea didn’t work.
U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow presided over the case. She said all of the past work by Pugh is “ironic,” because:
“It was precisely that reputation for good work that allowed her to commit these offenses and continue the fraud for as long as she did.
“It is astounding and I have yet frankly to hear any explanation that makes sense. 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.”
Pugh did not ever offer explanation for the crimes, only apologies to the citizens of Baltimore and praises for herself.
The judge also ordered any copies of “Healthy Holly” in governmental custody to be destroyed.
Prosecutors said nearly 94% of purchases of ex-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's children's books, totalling $805K, were bought by corporate buyers with an interest in "obtaining or maintaining a government contract" https://t.co/aucpKE4ktm
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) February 27, 2020
U.S. Attorney Robert Hur spoke to the press following the hearing.
“This is a tragedy and the last thing our city needs. This is not a light sentence in my view and should not be regarded as such.
The victims are all of us, the taxpayers and the people of Baltimore who expect and deserve integrity from their public officials. The people of Baltimore expect, and they should expect, that elected officials place the interests of their citizens above their own.
Corrupt public employees rip off the taxpayers and undermine everyone’s faith in government.”
The IRS’ criminal investigation unit’s assistant special agent in charge, George Murphy, said Pugh “chose a path of greed and corruption.”
“Public officials must abide by the laws. This should serve as a reminder to the public that everyone must pay their taxes.”
Ex-Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced to 3 years in prison for fraud involving her children's book.
Prosecutors say she sold thousands of copies to orgs seeking city contracts, often failed to deliver them, and used the money to fund campaigns and buy a new house. pic.twitter.com/kfTvpfbFQV
— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 27, 2020
Pugh also spoke to reporters outside the courthouse following the sentencing hearing.
“None of this was intentional,” she said. “Sometimes when you think you’re doing one thing, as my mother used to say, ‘It’s not what you intend to do, it’s 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.”
After her rambles, she thanked supporters and said she believes the city will move on without her.
She also said she looked forward to rebuilding her life, and ended with:
“It’s not the last you’ll see of Catherine Pugh.”
At least she warned the citizens this time. I hope they hide their wallets.
Meanwhile, Baltimore struggles to find a mayoral candidate who does not have a criminal history.
Over half of the thirty-two current candidates have just that.
One candidate that was already forced to leave office in disgrace is 65-year old Sheila Dixon. Dixon was originally indicted in January of 2009 for twelve counts of theft and theft related charges.
She was ultimately convicted of embezzlement. Dixon stole gift cards which were intended for low-income citizens.
Dixon ran for mayor after her four year probation against Pugh and narrowly lost. She’s hoping that this time enough voters have “forgiven” her and will make her their city’s mayor once again.
Some other winners:
William Herd, whose crimes were malicious destruction of property, breaking and entering, and passing bad checks.
Clergyman David Anthony Wiggins, who was charged with false imprisonment, harassment, failure to comply with a peace order, and filing a false application to purchase a firearm.
Richard Vaughn, whose crimes include felony theft, carjacking, and harassment charges.
Zulieka Baysmore was charged with failing to return a rental vehicle.
Other charges of fishing without a license, theft, and minor misdemeanors can be found throughout several other candidates’ histories. These reports, mind you, are solely those reported within the State of Maryland.
Way to go, Baltimore. Your politics suck, and so does your criminal justice system.
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