The former Democratic mayor of Baltimore was sentenced to three years in federal prison Thursday following her conviction on tax evasion and conspiracy charges related to the sale of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books to help promote her political career and fund her run for the city’s highest office.
Catherine Pugh, cried as she spoke before her sentencing in federal court in Baltimore. The politician who will turn 70 on March 10, apologized and said that “no one is more disappointed than me,” and added that she did not want to bring “any more shame” to the city.
“I think the first thing I should do is apologize to the citizens of Baltimore who put their faith and trust in me as their mayor, and to all the people who put their faith and trust in me as state senator and as delegate,” Pugh said after being sentenced.
In 2016, Pugh was elected as Baltimore’s 50th mayor and resigned in May as authorities investigated bulk sales of her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks, which netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Federal authorities accused Pugh of double selling the books, keeping many for self-promotion purposes and failing to deliver them to institutions they were purchased for, including the Baltimore City Public Schools. Pugh used the proceeds to fund straw donations to her mayoral campaign and buy a new house.
Pugh was sentenced Thursday to serve three years of supervised release after getting out of prison. She was ordered to pay more than $411,000 in restitution and to forfeit more than $669,000 to the government. She pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges in November. She will be notified by April 13 when she must surrender and begin her sentence.
Prosecutors asked the U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow to impose a five year prison term, while Pugh’s attorneys wanted a term of one year and a day.
Dozens of people submitted letters to the federal judge pleading for leniency, including Kweisi Mfume, the former NAACP leader and Democratic nominee for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. Five people spoke in support of Pugh during the hearing, including her former high school teacher, according to ABC News.
But Judge Chasanow said she found it ironic that Pugh’s supporters referenced her commitment to public service. “It was precisely that reputation for good work that enabled her to commit those offenses,” Chasnow said.
According to authorities, Pugh received $500,000 from the University of Maryland Medical System, where she was a board member, for 100,000 copies of her books, but there was no contract, and the system described some of the purchases as “grants” in federal filings. She returned her most recent $100,000 payment and described the deal as a “regrettable mistake,” Fox News reports.
Health care provider Kaiser Permanente also disclosed that it had paid Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC about $114,000 between 2015 and 2018 for about 20,000 copies of her books. Pugh oversaw Baltimore’s spending board in 2017, when the city awarded a $48 million contract to the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan for the Mid-Atlantic States Inc.
Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott called the sentencing “a somber moment for Baltimore,” saying in a written statement that Pugh’s acts “seriously undermined the public’s trust in our local government.”
“Now, on the day of her sentencing, both she and our city have an opportunity to move forward,” Scott said. “This moment reminds us that, as elected officials, we have one job: to serve the people, period.”