Baltimore bookgate, day 6. "I pay my taxes"

We’re now in the sixth day of what we might as well start referring to as “bookgate” in the city of Baltimore. The media, following some excellent investigative reporting done by the Baltimore Sun, is circling around Mayor Catherine Pugh like sharks that have detected some blood in the water. We learned yesterday that more than 8,000 copies of Mayor Pugh’s self-published children’s book were sitting in a University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) warehouse with no documentation explaining why they were there or what should be done with them. The Mayor, for her part, had pocketed half a million dollars from UMMS after they “agreed” to buy them and give them away to children.

Last night brought even more developments. A reporter from the Sun managed to get Mayor Pugh on the phone to ask her about the situation and received a rather testy reply. She referred to the questions as a “witch hunt” and claimed that everything had been handled properly. As proof of that, she insisted that she paid taxes on all the money and even gave her most recent payment from UMMS back to them.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh says she has properly reported and paid taxes on all sales of her “Healthy Holly” books and called inquiries into her deals with the University of Maryland Medical System a “witch hunt.”

Pugh declined to provide copies of her personal and business tax records related to the $500,000 she has received from the medical system for 100,000 books since 2011, a period that includes her time as a state senator and as mayor…

“All my income is reported to the IRS and everything is filed,” Pugh said in a telephone interview with The Baltimore Sun Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know what witch hunt y’all are on, but it’s done. I’ve got 1099’s and I pay my taxes and everything is filed.”

At least one portion of Pugh’s statements is apparently true. CBS News in Baltimore is confirming that she did indeed return $100,000 to UMMS after the details of this scheme went public. As for paying her taxes, we apparently just have to take her word for it, as she declined to provide copies of her personal or business tax returns to the newspaper for inspection. Wait a minute… I thought politicians who refused to release their tax returns were bad people. I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere.

But the tax question isn’t really at the heart of the matter here and I’m fairly sure Pugh knows that. If you rob a bank and then declare the money you stole and pay taxes on it, that doesn’t get you off the hook for the initial heist. The real question was how UMMS was muscled into setting up private business deals with nine board members, including influential elected officials that exercise control over their funding, and forked over hundreds of thousands of dollars to each of them. (For the record, two other board members with these sweet deals resigned yesterday and four more were placed on leave by the board.)

Unless and until Mayor Pugh can come up with a more compelling defense, people are going to assume that this situation is precisely what it looks like. Pugh and some of her fellow board members cooked up some fishy deals so they could soak the taxpayers for huge sums of money, laundering it through the UMMS budget. Even if this is somehow technically legal, it stinks to high heaven and the state Attorney General needs to be looking into this. The Governor met with legislative leaders yesterday to discuss measures to “ensure this doesn’t happen again going forward.” But thus far, we’re not hearing a word about Mayor Pugh being held accountable.

But hey… at least she paid her taxes. For some reason, this reminds me of the 1951 Kefauver Hearings, where mafia boss Frank Costello was asked if there was one thing he could think of to speak to his credit as an American citizen. Costello simply replied, “I paid my tax.”