The former mayor of Baltimore was sentenced to three years in prison Thursday on corruption charges related to sales of her self-published children’s book to companies with close ties to state and local government.
Catherine Pugh, a 69-year-old Democrat who resigned last year, was also ordered to pay around $1 million in restitution, according to a statement from the federal prosecutor for the US East Coast state of Maryland.
She pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion in November for raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to local organizations to which she had ties — sometimes without delivering the books.
“I accept total responsibility,” Pugh said in a video in which she expressed regret for tarnishing Baltimore’s image as the city of some 600,000 people grapples with a soaring crime rate, racial unrest and poverty levels that are among the highest in the country.
But Maryland District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow said Thursday, “I have yet frankly to hear any explanation that makes sense.”
“This was not a tiny mistake, lapse of judgment,” she said, according to the Baltimore Sun newspaper. “This became a very large fraud. The nature and circumstances of this offense clearly I think are extremely, extremely serious.”
The newspaper revealed last year that the University of Maryland Medical System spent $500,000 to buy 100,000 copies of Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” children’s books between 2012 and 2018, while she was a member of the health system’s board.
After first denouncing an investigation into the matter as a “witch hunt,” the former mayor then called the incident a “regrettable mistake” and returned $100,000 of the sales.
But other sales were uncovered, including to Kaiser Permanente insurance company, which said it paid Pugh $114,000 for “Healthy Holly” books from 2015 to 2018.
Kaiser had won a $48 million contract in 2017 to provide health insurance to city employees from 2018 to 2020.
Pugh, who was elected in 2016, finally quit her position in May 2019 after calls for her resignation intensified.