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In a hushed courtroom, a stoic Pugh admits to her crimes

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh, right, leaves U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. An 11-count federal indictment accuses Pugh of arranging fraudulent sales of her "Healthy Holly" books to schools, libraries and a medical system to enrich herself, promote her political career and fund her run for mayor. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh, right, leaves U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. An 11-count federal indictment accuses Pugh of arranging fraudulent sales of her “Healthy Holly” books to schools, libraries and a medical system to enrich herself, promote her political career and fund her run for mayor. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Former Mayor Catherine Pugh walked into U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow’s courtroom on Thursday flanked by her attorneys, wearing a long black coat and looking somber.

After she entered the room shortly before 1 p.m. Pugh sat down between her lawyers, head slightly angled down, looking at the table in front of her. Despite the heat in the crowded room Pugh never removed her jacket.

At the rear of the court four benches holding about 15 people apiece were packed with attorneys, reporters, and political candidates. Conspicuously absent from the benches were family, friends, or past political allies of Pugh.

Those standing at the back, unable to find a seat on the benches, were asked to leave by court security officers. They escorted those unlucky enough to get seats into another room where they could listen to piped-in audio of the proceedings.

After the stragglers were cleared a hush hung over the courtroom, like in a theater after the house lights flicker before a performance. The near silence only broke when the “All rise” command rang out as Chasanow entered the chamber.

The judge proceeded with the business at hand, including reading the four charges Pugh agreed to admit guilt to in exchange for leniency in sentencing.

After reading each charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion Chasanow asked Pugh if she willingly admitted her guilt.

After the first charge was read the judge asked Pugh if she admitted to the crime. The former mayor paused for a few moments before quietly responding, “I do.” She followed suit without the hesitation for the next three charges.

For most of the next two hours Pugh, who has not been seen in public or defended herself publicly since a March news conference, said little more than “yes” or “I do.”

Chasanow repeatedly asked Pugh questions of fact, like her age, and the soft-spoken 69-year-old former mayor quietly answered the questions. She had to repeat her answers a few times.

The only moment in the two-hour hearing that approached levity came when Chasanow asked Pugh about whether she’d been treated for substance abuse or mental health issues.

Pugh initially said “no.” But after a brief reconsideration, she told the judge she’d been treated for “anxiety.” Chasanow followed up asking how Pugh how she felt today.

“Anxious,” Pugh said.

Prosecutors proceeded to read the facts of the counts to which Pugh was pleading guilty. The former mayor mostly sat straight, her eyes facing straight ahead.

As the reading of the facts dragged on her attorney, Steven Silverman, slumped in his chair. He briefly thrust his head back and stared at ceiling before quickly correcting his posture.

Pugh throughout remained stoic as prosecutors detailed how she and former aide Gary Brown Jr. used her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to enrich themselves, fund her campaigns, and even pay for Brown’s legal fees after the state prosecutor indicted him on campaign finance violations in 2017.

Pugh’s placid, even withdrawn demeanor, only cracked a few times when she appeared to shake her head “no” as prosecutors read facts from the indictments. But when asked whether the facts were true she again simply said “yes.”

At the end of the hearing Chasanow told Pugh she’s now considered guilty of those crimes and that she remains free ahead of her sentencing on Feb. 27, if she abides by the conditions of her release.

Pugh and her legal team were the last to leave the courtroom. They did not respond to requests for comment from reporters as they hustled to an elevator. After descending five floors Pugh proceeded to register with pretrial services.

After that process Pugh and her attorneys hurried past assembled reporters outside the courthouse in downtown Baltimore, again without answering questions.

Pugh was shuttled away in a black SUV. It was much like the one her police detail was assigned to chauffeur her around town back when she was mayor just a few months ago.

This item is part of The Daily Record’s coverage of the Catherine Pugh "Healthy Holly" scandal.
Sentencing: Former Baltimore mayor Pugh sentenced to 3 years in prison | After sentencing, Pugh says she hopes to rebuild her life
Timeline: A timeline of the Catherine Pugh scandal
Earlier coverage: Pugh pleads guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges | In a hushed courtroom, a stoic Pugh admits to her crimes | Former Baltimore mayor Pugh indicted on 11 federal counts | Indictment renews focus on UMMS self-dealing scandal | Trail to Catherine Pugh started with obscure aide’s campaign finance violation | Read the indictment | Watch the U.S. Attorney's news conference | Ex-Pugh aide’s swearing-in for House delayed following indictment | Pugh aide found guilty of campaign finance violations

 


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