By Luke Broadwater, Justin Fenton and Kevin Rector
Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who held elected offices in Baltimore for two decades and was elevated by voters to lead the city after the upheaval of 2015, was sentenced to three years in federal prison Thursday for a fraud scheme involving a children’s book series.
U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow described Pugh’s crimes as “astounding” and said she took advantage of a career spent doing good works to mislead organizations who purchased her “Healthy Holly” books.
“I have yet frankly to hear any explanation that makes sense,” the judge said. “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, 69, tearfully asked Chasanow for mercy and apologized in court “to anyone I have offended or hurt through my actions.” She said she had “turned a blind eye” and “sanctioned things I should not have,” but did not intend to cause harm.
Pugh isn’t being imprisoned immediately. Chasanow said Pugh would have to report no later than mid-April.
Outside the courthouse, Pugh spoke to reporters for the first time since leaving office and struck a resilient tone, declaring: “This is not the last you’ll see of Catherine Pugh.”
Pugh’s political fall began in March when The Baltimore Sun revealed she had entered into a no-bid deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, where Pugh sat on the board of directors, to buy 100,000 copies of her sloppily self-published “Healthy Holly” books for $500,000. She later resigned from the board and as mayor amid multiple investigations into her finances and the book sales. In total, she netted more than $850,000, prosecutors say.
At the same time, she failed to print thousands of copies, double-sold thousands more and took many others to use for self-promotion, according to prosecutors. Investigators also uncovered that she laundered illegal campaign contributions and failed to pay taxes.