By Sandy Malone and Holly Matkin
Baltimore, MD – The disgraced former Democratic mayor of Baltimore, serving time in a federal prison for a fraud scheme involving children’s books, has asked President Donald Trump to commute her sentence before he leaves office on Wednesday.
Pugh was facing up to 175 years in prison on the original charges against her, but she pleaded guilty in a plea deal that resulted in the former mayor being sentenced to only three years in prison on federal fraud and tax charges in connection with the “Healthy Holly” book series that she authored.
“She lied to the IRS in order to pay less in taxes,” U.S. Attorney Robert Hur said, according to WBAL. “She violated Maryland state election law which prohibits someone from making a campaign contribution in someone else’s name.”
Hur said that the former mayor’s actions victimized Baltimore’s taxpayers.
“The victims are all of us, the taxpayers and the people of Baltimore who expect and deserve integrity from their public officials,” he said. “The people of Baltimore expect – and they should expect – that elected officials place the interests of their citizens above their own.”
Pugh also allegedly defrauded the Baltimore public school system and health care companies by failing to deliver books they paid for, according to The New York Times.
In some cases, she accepted payment for thousands of books that were never even printed, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, Pugh received nearly $800,000 for her books, both before and after she was elected as mayor, The Washington Post reported.
Investigators began looking into Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC book deals while she was still a member of the board of directors at the University of Maryland Medical System, WBAL reported.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) executed search warrants at then-Mayor Pugh’s residences and multiple other locations in April of 2019.
Pugh took a month of medical leave during the same timeframe, and ultimately resigned from her mayoral position a month later.
Meanwhile, Pugh’s former aide, Gary Brown, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and two counts of conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with the now-former mayor’s alleged scheme, The Baltimore Sun reported.
“From November 2011 until March 2019, Ms. Pugh conspired with Gary Brown to defraud purchases of Healthy Holly books in order to enrich themselves, promote Ms. Pugh’s political career and fund her campaign for mayor,” Hur said, according to WBAL. “Mr. Brown helped Ms. Pugh solicit nonprofit organizations and foundations to buy the Healthy Holly books.”
In some instances, the duo took in payments for the books but failed to deliver them, prosecutors said.
In other cases, they delivered the purchased books, but then converted the same books for their own use without the purchasers’ knowledge. They have also been accused of double-selling books without the consent of the purchasers, WBAL reported.
“Ms. Pugh allegedly stored quantities of fraudulently obtained Healthy Holly books at various locations, including her residence, her state legislative offices in Annapolis and Baltimore City, her mayoral office at City Hall in Baltimore, the War Memorial building in Baltimore and a public storage locker used by her mayoral campaign,” Hur explained.
Hur told reporters that Pugh used the proceeds from the “fraudulently-obtained ‘Healthy Holly’ books” to fund “straw donations” to her mayoral campaign, as well as to purchase an renovate her Baltimore home, WBAL reported.
Pugh has asked President Trump to include her in the final pardons and commutations he is expected to announced on Tuesday, WJZ reported.
There has been a crush of pardon applications in the President’s final days in office because 11th-hour pardons are a tradition of outgoing White House administrations.