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Pugh pleads guilty to perjury charge

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh leaves the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis, Md., after pleading guilty to a state perjury charge Friday, June 19, 2020, for failing to disclose a business interest relating to her “Healthy Holly” children’s books on her financial disclosure forms when she was a state senator. Pugh, a 70-year-old Democrat, already has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in the self-dealing scandal over the books that touted exercise and nutrition. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh leaves the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis, Md., after pleading guilty to a state perjury charge Friday, June 19, 2020, for failing to disclose a business interest relating to her “Healthy Holly” children’s books on her financial disclosure forms when she was a state senator. Pugh, a 70-year-old Democrat, already has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for netting hundreds of thousands of dollars in the self-dealing scandal over the books that touted exercise and nutrition. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Friday to a perjury charge stemming from the sale of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s book while she served as a state senator.

As part of a plea agreement with the Office of the State Prosecutor, Pugh admitted guilt to the charge, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence. In exchange, State Prosecutor Charlton Howard asked for Pugh to serve a six-month sentence running concurrently with the jail term she received from a federal court in February, a deal Judge Mark Crooks decided to honor after being assigned the case late Thursday afternoon.

“When I learned of this scheme … I became very sad for the city, quite frankly, and the people who put you in the post you were in, and it forced you to leave the helm amid a tempest,” Crooks, who served in the Navy, said.

Crooks said he hosts midshipmen from the Naval Academy who live by a code not to lie, steal, or cheat. That code is becoming something of an anachronism in a society “all the way from the White House on down,” he said.

“The tragedy in all of this (is) you were forced to leave the helm in Baltimore’s hour of need,” Crooks added.

Howard told the court that Pugh, in failing to report Healthy Holly LLC on disclosure forms, violated the “foundation of transparency in Maryland government.” However, he said, he felt the sentence agreed to in the plea agreement was fair.

Both her attorney Steve Silverman and Pugh chose not to speak on her behalf prior to Crooks issuing a sentence. It was a stark departure from her sentencing in federal court when Silverman and various character witnesses at great length portrayed Pugh’s crimes as errors in judgment by a woman who had sought to do right by the people she represented on the City Council, Senate, and as mayor.

Pugh and her attorneys struck the agreement with the prosecutor’s office in December, which was the same month the 70-year-old Pugh was accused of failing to list her Healthy Holly LLC business interests on financial disclosure forms, as required of state lawmakers.

During her time in the General Assembly and City Hall Pugh sold the books to entities like the University of Maryland Medical System, where she served on the board. In some cases she sold books to companies while they were seeking business with the city.

Between 2008 and 2016 Pugh earned at least $345,000 in income from the sale of the books, according to the prosecutor’s office, but never listed the corporation on declarations she filed with the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

Pugh, who resigned as mayor in 2019, was sentenced to three years in prison in February after pleading guilty to federal charges related to the sale of her children’s books. Her prison term, which was initially slated to start in late April at women’s prison in Alabama, was postponed to June 26 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During her time in the General Assembly and City Hall Pugh sold the books to entities like the University of Maryland Medical System, where she served on the board. In some cases she sold books to companies while they were seeking to do business with the city.

Pugh and an associate also sold books to one entity, which expected the books to be delivered to city schools, and then turned around and sold the same batch of books to another buyer. In all “Healthy Holly” sales earned in excess of $800,000.

Those proceeds were often funneled into Pugh’s campaign accounts using straw-man donations. The funds were even used to pay the legal fees of Gary Brown, Pugh’s longtime aide, whom the state prosecuto convicted in 2017 of making illegal contributions to Pugh’s mayoral campaign.

As the scandal unfolded Pugh took a leave of absence in March of 2019. In May, after FBI and IRS agents searched her offices in City Hall, her west Baltimore home, and her campaign treasurer’s office, Pugh resigned.