Thousands of those books Baltimore's mayor sold are sitting in a warehouse

When last we checked in on the growing scandal surrounding Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, we learned that she had resigned from the Board of Directors for the University of Maryland Medical System. (In her resignation letter she stated she had “many other pressing concerns that require my full attention, energy and efforts.”) What the resignation didn’t clear up was the matter of the half million dollars the UMMS had paid her for tens of thousands of copies of a children’s book she had written and self-published. Despite calls from Maryland legislators and even the Governor to give the money back, no mention of that was made in her resignation letter.

While writing about this story, I asked one question that seemed obvious for the local media to investigate. Why in the world would eleven hospitals and clinics need tens of thousands of copies of the same book to give away to children? How many patients in that age group do they have? And wouldn’t they perhaps enjoy a variety of books, rather than just this one? (It’s called Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow.) Now we know at least part of the answer to that question. There are nearly ten thousand copies sitting in a warehouse and nobody seems to know what they were supposed to do with them. (Baltimore Sun)

More than 8,000 copies of a children’s book written by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh are sitting in a Baltimore school system-owned warehouse, according to a spokeswoman…

City schools spokeswoman Anne Fullerton said that the district has not been able to locate documentation related to book shipments, but that staff members recall a shipment of “unsolicited” copies being delivered between 2011 and 2013. She said the school system can’t confirm how many books were received or the number of books handed out to students.

“However, we can confirm that approximately 8,700 copies of Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow are currently located in a district warehouse,” she wrote in an email. “We have no record of any subsequent shipments or donations, and staff members have no recollection of any shipments beyond the one dating from the 2011-13 period.”

City Hall continues to insist that nothing illegal was going on because there is no law against board members having private contracts for goods and services with UMMS. (State legislators are scrambling to put such a law on the books at the moment.) But… c’mon, man. The medical system is spending taxpayer dollars for everything it does and surely there’s some requirement that the money is spent prudently on the actual needs of the institution.

The problem here is that this is such an obvious case of grifting. One-third of the board members have such private contracts, all paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if there’s some loophole that allows this to happen, it’s still a case of public officials blatantly stealing from the taxpayers. If UMMS had an actual need for that ridiculous number of copies of her children’s books to give away they wouldn’t be collecting dust in a warehouse with no documentation to explain their presence.

If the state government had directly purchased the Mayor’s books to line her pockets, that figure would have shown up as a line item in the budget somewhere and people would have noticed by now. But by laundering the money through UMMS, there was clearly less risk of anyone noticing. And nobody did wind up noticing for nearly a decade.

For now, the Governor, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House have all expressed outrage and called for “reforms.” The Speaker, who also sits on the UMMS board (but apparently didn’t get one of those special personal business deals) is quoted as saying he “can’t “remember a scandal of this scale taking place since I’ve been in office.” What nobody seems to have the nerve to do so far is to call for Pugh’s resignation and demand the Attorney General launch an investigation. Perhaps if Pugh were a Republican they might be moving a bit quicker. But this isn’t just a “scandal.” It’s an obvious case of fraud and a backdoor way of embezzling taxpayer money. And if the state and municipal government allow this to be swept under the rug then they are equally culpable in the corruption.