Embattled Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby vowed to fight her federal charges Friday at an impassioned news conference in front of the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office that she has headed since 2015.
“I wanted the people of Baltimore to hear it from me: I have done nothing wrong,” Mosby said in her first public comments since being indicted Thursday. She faces two counts each of perjury and making false statements on loan applications.
Mosby did not take questions from the press at the news conference. She followed the same playbook that her attorney has used in the media since the indictment became public: attack the integrity of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland and claim that racial or political animus is behind prosecutors’ actions.
“This indictment is merely a political ploy by my political adversaries to unseat me,” Mosby said. “Please also understand that I will never let that happen without a fight.”
The allegations stem from Mosby’s purchase of two Florida vacation homes in 2020 and 2021.
Mosby is accused of falsely claiming she suffered financially during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to withdraw money from her retirement account without incurring the usual penalty. In fact, her salary increased by about $10,000 in 2020, to $247,955, according to the indictment.
She used the retirement withdrawals to make down payments on homes in Kissimmee and Long Boat Key, Florida, the indictment claims.
She is accused of improperly withdrawing $40,000 in May 2020 and another $50,000 in December 2020. She is also charged with failing to disclose an IRS lien for $45,000 in unpaid taxes when she applied for mortgages for the Florida properties.
Mosby’s attorney, A. Scott Bolden, said Thursday that the indictment was “bogus” and designed to politically damage Mosby, who is up for reelection this year.
In a radio interview Friday, Bolden said he tried to present exculpatory evidence to prosecutors, but that they declined to meet with him.
He told WYPR’s Tom Hall that Mosby had “other business interests” that were affected by COVID-19, including a travel company she formed in 2019. Bolden did not elaborate when asked for more details, but he said Mosby consulted with experts, including accountants, who gave her “the go-ahead” to use her retirement money to make investments.
Both Mosby and Bolden noted that the lead prosecutor handling her case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise, made campaign contributions to two of Mosby’s political opponents in the 2018 primary. She went on to win reelection.
Mosby emphasized that she is committed to carrying out her role as the city’s top prosecutor.
“I will not be distracted from doing my job,” Mosby said.
But the federal charges raise questions about how her office will function under this looming threat.
Steven Levin, a former federal prosecutor who handled the criminal case against ex-Baltimore police commissioner Ed Norris in the early 2000s, said it will be up to Mosby to decide if she can hold office while facing the stress of an indictment.
“A person under indictment never stops thinking about the fact that they are under indictment and their future is uncertain,” said Levin, who now does defense work.
“To expect anyone under indictment to perform in their job, in a very important job, it’s a lot to ask,” he said.
Levin noted another possible consequence: a breakdown in collaboration between Mosby’s office and federal prosecutors and investigators, who might otherwise form professional alliances aimed at stopping crime.
“Partnerships are key to success in keeping down violent crime,” Levin said. “I don’t know how there can be a successful partnership right now when one of your partners is under federal indictment as a result of your office’s actions. It’s troubling, and it’s concerning that this is going to have a negative impact on crime in Baltimore City.”
The consequences of the indictment are likely to be far-reaching in other ways, too, said Roger Hartley, the dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore.
“The questions that are being asked are going to have a huge impact on her, but also the city itself,” Hartley said.
Other opponents may consider jumping into the state’s attorney’s race because of the ethical cloud hanging over Mosby. She is currently facing two opponents, Baltimore defense attorneys Ivan Bates and Roya Hanna.
There are also logistical concerns when it comes to Mosby’s handling of criminal cases, Hartley said.
“There’s a standard for ethics that, whether they’re legal or illegal or not, are critically important to the functioning of the office,” he said. “What if similar types of cases come up?”
If convicted, Mosby could be removed from office. Maryland’s constitution allows for the removal of public officials who are convicted of felonies. State’s Attorneys can also be removed from office “for incompetency, willful neglect of duty, or misdemeanor in office, on conviction in a Court of Law,” or by a two-thirds vote from the state Senate, if recommended by the Attorney General.
There could also be consequences for Mosby’s law license. If convicted, she would likely face an immediate suspension and additional discipline from the Court of Appeals. Bar Counsel can also seek an injunction in circuit court against a lawyer’s license, but only under certain emergency circumstances.
Bar Counsel Lydia Lawless declined to comment for this story.
Douglas Colbert, a law professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said there is no ethical reason that Mosby cannot remain in office while she seeks to prove her innocence.
The federal system, he said, is a separate legal system than the one Mosby operates in. And while it might make sense to institute some safeguards if Mosby’s office is handling a similar case to the one she faces, Colbert said that is unlikely to affect the vast majority of Mosby’s work.
“I just don’t see any direct conflict there at all between Ms. Mosby fulfilling her role as a state’s attorney and answering the accusation in federal court,” Colbert said. “This is a nonissue.”
Kelly Davis has long been a vocal Mosby critic because of repeated prosecutions of her husband, Keith Davis Jr., on murder allegations that the State’s Attorney’s Office has struggled to prove in court.
Davis is set to go on trial for a fifth time in the 2015 murder this spring, making him one of the most aggressively prosecuted men in American history.
The role of state’s attorney “demands someone with integrity, ethics and justice,” Kelly Davis said. “This is the head of the office. How can we receive those things if they’re being indicted on charges of perjury and false statements?”
Davis said the allegations against Mosby mean she should resign, and that other local officials should call for her to step down — something that Davis thinks is unlikely because Mosby’s husband, Nick Mosby, is the president of Baltimore City Council. Nick Mosby is not named in the indictment.
“That just goes to show that these two people should never have held such powerful offices at the same time,” Davis said. “It’s an absolute, stark conflict of interest.”
Levin said some observers may be taking a “wait-and-see” approach to the indictment because Wise, the federal prosecutor, recently wrapped up a case that was widely seen as damaging to the reputation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Wise led the prosecution of Kenneth W. Ravenell, a prominent Baltimore defense attorney, who was convicted of money laundering at a trial last month.
But Ravenell’s co-defendants, Joshua R. Treem and Sean F. Gordon, were both acquitted on charges related to their defense of Ravenell while he was under federal investigation. The charges against Treem and Gordon led to outrage among members of the defense bar who said the government was criminalizing legitimate defense work.
“I think there’s a sense of ‘let’s wait and see,’ because one of the prosecutors involved in the outrageous prosecution (of Treem and Gordon) is involved in this case, so it’s not clear to those who aren’t familiar with the facts whether this is a reasonable indictment or not.”
Levin said the charges against Mosby appear defensible. She may be able to prove she did not know about the federal tax lien, which her husband said publicly was paid off. Mosby may also be able to show she experienced a pandemic-related financial hardship that was unrelated to her job, Levin said.
“Each charge is defensible but I think overall, atmospherically, it’s going to be a challenging case,” Levin said. “But not an unwinnable case.”