Could we see a quick show of hands from anyone in Maryland that handles or receives taxpayer money who hasn’t bought thousands of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” books or given cash to her book company for no apparent reason?

I realize that these stories are becoming somewhat redundant at this point, but the hits just keep on coming. Now the Baltimore Sun has uncovered yet another company that dumped money into Pugh’s book-selling LLC, the entity at the center of a scandal that recently saw Mayor Pugh take a leave of absence for “medical reasons.” This time it’s the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, a semi-private initiative set up by the state to cover hard-to-insure drivers. And they didn’t even bother taking delivery of any books. They just wrote her a check as a “donation.”

The quasi-public company created by the Maryland General Assembly for hard-to-insure drivers gave a $7,500 donation in 2012 to then state-Sen. Catherine Pugh’s Health Holly book company, shortly before she successfully sponsored legislation supported by the company.

The money was for Healthy Holly’s “outreach program with the Associated Black Charities,” Mark McCurdy, executive director of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, said Tuesday.

McCurdy, who took over in 2015, said a search of the insurer’s records found a second donation in 2013 for $5,000 to Associated Black Charities when the nonprofit was soliciting funds to buy Healthy Holly books for distribution to African-American children.

First of all, when you’re doling out money for “charitable” reasons, who the heck donates to a book publishing company? Also, those two donations represent another $12,500 going to Catherine Pugh when she was an elected official with influence over the budget and operation of the groups giving her all of this money. We have no way of knowing what the grand total is yet, but it’s quickly approaching a million dollars.

But there’s more to this story, much like the previous ones. The guy in charge of the insurance fund when this “donation” was made, M. Kent Krabbe, went on to become a paid staffer in Pugh’s 2016 mayoral campaign and later landed himself a $107,000-a-year job at Baltimore’s department of transportation. Good work if you can get it.

We’re now up to well over 100,000 copies of these books being sold, though a significant number of them may have been phantom copies that were paid for but never printed. The Washington Post checked in with some legitimate publishers to ask how likely this story sounds and was told, literally… “no way.” For a virtually unknown author to sell 100,000 copies of any book – particularly a children’s book – is beyond miraculous. To manage the feat without the influence and reach of a major publisher is unheard of. One publisher described it as the equivalent of being at the top of the New York Times bestseller list every week for an entire year. It’s more copies than were sold during the first printing of Stephen King’s last novel in 2018. It’s not just unlikely or amazingly lucky. It’s ridiculous.

Is it even possible that all of this grifting was somehow legal under Maryland and federal law? Could Catherine Pugh really be able to haul in that much money through influence peddling and simply walk away with the cash and never face a single day in court? Perhaps. At this point, she hasn’t even officially resigned. For all I know she may just stay in office until the legislature is forced to remove her. But this scandal has reached breathtaking proportions, so stay tuned. I’m sure there’s more to come.