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Pugh attorneys, supporters seek leniency in sentencing

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh, left, leaves U.S. District Court in Baltimore with her attorney Steven Silverman 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, left, leaves U.S. District Court in Baltimore with her attorney Steven Silverman on Nov. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

With prosecutors asking for nearly five years of incarceration for former Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, her attorneys and supporters are seeking leniency, urging the judge in charge of Pugh’s sentencing next week to recognize her career of public service and the punishment she has already experienced.

Pugh’s attorneys called her a “tragic figure” who has “lost everything that she had” in a sentencing memorandum to the court seeking one year and one day of incarceration.

David Wilson, president of Morgan State University, Pugh’s alma mater, wrote, “I have come to know Catherine Pugh as a good person with a good heart, a positive spirit and an individual who cares immensely about the welfare of those less fortunate.”

He added: “It is, indeed, unfortunate that Mayor Pugh had a momentary lapse of bad judgment. She is certainly not a bad person.”

Federal prosecutors filed a sentencing memorandum Thursday asking for a sentence of 57 months, or nearly five years. Pugh pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion. She is set to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on Feb. 27.

The government accused Pugh of “a recurring pattern of well-executed steps that built on each other, becoming more audacious and complex leading up to the mayoral election.”

But Pugh’s attorneys argued in their memorandum on Friday that Pugh immediately accepted responsibility and has spent her life dedicated to public service, making the one year and a day sentence appropriate.

“We respectfully submit that Ms. Pugh has suffered and continues to suffer in an immense and extraordinary way,” they contend.

In addition to Wilson, dozens of family members, friends and community members wrote letters of support urging leniency in Pugh’s case, including Kweisi Mfume, the Democratic nominee to fill the late Rep. Elijah Cummings’ congressional seat.

Mfume wrote that while he is not familiar with every aspect of Pugh’s case, he is familiar with her. He urged the judge to order Pugh to spend time under court supervision volunteering with nonprofits to serve the community rather than give her a prison sentence.

“This option seems to me at least, to have more value,” he wrote. “Her skills and the accumulated knowledge she has gained over the years could be of valuable assistance to those community service groups, charities, and organizations in need of experienced assistance.”

Notably absent from the submitted letters, however, were any from Pugh’s fellow lawmakers, except for former Del. Clarence “Tiger” Davis, who served with Pugh in the House of Delegates before his retirement in 2006. Pugh served in the House of Delegates from 2005 to 2007 and in the state Senate from 2007 to 2016.

Davis also endorsed a sentence that would use Pugh’s skills and commitment to help Baltimore, not a prison sentence.

“If punishment is paramount, there can be no greater punishment than the pain she is currently enduring,” he wrote.

The parties agreed that federal sentencing guidelines in Pugh’s case would recommend a sentence of 46 to 57 months, but the defense argues that the guidelines are just one factor courts can consider in determining the appropriate sentence and that, in Pugh’s case, a departure is appropriate.

Pugh admitted in her plea to a years-long scheme to enrich herself and fund her political campaigns by selling her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to organizations that did business with the state and Baltimore. The books were often never distributed to children but instead were moved around Baltimore and resold to other organizations.

‘Altruistic and sincere’

Pugh’s attorneys claim that the initial sale of the books was born “out of a completely altruistic and sincere motive by Ms. Pugh to help fight childhood obesity and was not a purported swindle of money driven by greed.” If Pugh had received proper guidance, the sales could have been done appropriately, they argue.

Many books were delivered to children in the region, and many of the entities that purchased the books are not seeking restitution, according to the memorandum.

Prosecutors argued in their memorandum that most of the purchasers “candidly admitted that agreeing to buy books from a politician like Pugh in an arms-length transaction (was) a good business decision” because of her influence and role in awarding contracts or supplying votes, according to the government.

Though there is no evidence Pugh extorted or solicited bribes from any of the organizations that purchased the books, her decision to approach companies that worked with the city “suggests that Pugh leveraged the power of her elected office to corruptly solicit money from (entities) that might be beholden to her,” prosecutors claim.

But Pugh is now “humbled, penitent, and remorseful,” according to her attorneys, and “acknowledges that her criminal conduct was serious and betrayed the values she spent a lifetime advocating and pursuing.” She has also experienced psychological and physical harm.

Pugh is “paying a tremendously heavy price for her crimes,” according to the memorandum, and “has ruined a reputation that took a lifetime to build, and foreclosed any future elected public service.”

The case is USA v. Catherine Elizabeth Pugh, 1:19-cr-0541.


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