This story has been several years in the making, but this week it appears to have drawn to a close. Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned in disgrace after being charged on a variety of corruption charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud and tax evasion. She previously pleaded guilty to four counts and awaited sentencing. That’s now happened. Pugh has been given three years in prison plus another three years of supervised release, along with some hefty financial hits. While her attorneys are complaining about the sentence, it actually sounds rather light when you consider the nature of the long-running grifting scam she’d been pulling off. (NBC News)
Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced on Thursday to three years in prison for a children’s book scam that funneled money into her personal accounts and campaign coffers.
Pugh, 69, will also have to serve three years of supervised release once she’s out of prison, according to the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow.
The disgraced former mayor was also ordered to pay $411,948 in restitution and to forfeit $669,688, including property on Ellamont Road in Baltimore and $17,800 from her Committee to Re-elect Catherine Pugh.
When the prosecutors and the defense were wrangling over the sentence, I made a guess that she would probably get two years. The defense had asked for one year and one day, while prosecutors requested 57 months. In the end, the judge went a little bit heavier than even I had expected, but not by much. Plus, the fines are fairly steep, wiping out virtually all of the at least $800,000 she grifted out of the system for her “Healthy Holly” children’s books.
Pugh’s lead defense attorney carped that Pugh had committed “victimless crimes.” But the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case was having none of it. Robert Hur told the press that the victims in this case were “all of us.”
As many of us, including yours truly, have said from the beginning, it’s shocking that it took so long for the law to catch up to Pugh. It was such an obvious case of grifting with no logical alternative to explain her actions that it boggles the mind. She was selling copies of her self-published children’s books by the truckload to people and organizations who had contracts with the University of Maryland Medical System, where Pugh sat on the board. Many of the “sales” were for books that were never even printed. She just cashed the checks and flushed the money into her campaign fund, her personal bank accounts and renovations on her home. And it added up to nearly a million dollars.
Pugh released a statement that sounds like something out of the diary of a crazy person, sounding something like an apology without ever admitting any wrongdoing.
“Sometimes when you think you’re doing one thing, as my mother used to say, ‘It’s not what you intend to do, it is what you do,'” Pugh said. “And all of us pay the price for the things that don’t turn out the way that they should turn out.”
What does that even mean? It’s “not what you intend to do” but it’s “what you do?” You made people who wanted contracts with the UMMS buy imaginary copies of your book for hundreds of thousands of dollars. What are we supposed to believe that you “intended” in doing that?
This is another sad chapter in the history of Baltimore’s corrupt government that’s hopefully drawn to a close. But perhaps not. Pugh dropped into the habit of speaking about herself in the third person, saying “I don’t think this is the last chapter for Catherine Pugh.” Who knows? Perhaps she’s right. One of her predecessors, Sheila Dixon, was similarly driven from office after pleading guilty to embezzlement. She came back and ran against Pugh in the primary and came within a handful of points of winning.
Apparently, the citizens of Baltimore don’t find such actions by their elected leaders all that troubling. And if that’s the case, they’re getting exactly what they deserve.