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Gary Brown, aide to Baltimore Mayor Pugh, charged with making illegal campaign contributions

Court records show an aide to Mayor Catherine Pugh was indicted on charges of 'illegal' campaign donations.

A campaign aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh has been indicted on charges that he violated election laws during Pugh's campaign — and his swearing-in as a state delegate has been called off.

Gary Brown Jr., who was selected last month to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates, was indicted by a Baltimore grand jury Friday on charges of making illegal campaign contributions, court documents show.

Prosecutors say Brown deposited cash into the bank accounts of his mother, stepfather and brother before the Democratic primary for mayor last year and then immediately contributed that money to the Pugh campaign in their names.

The contributions totaled $18,000. The maximum amount an individual can give to a candidate during a campaign cycle under Maryland law is $6,000.

"Election laws are in place to maintain the integrity of the electoral process and foster transparency in the regulation of campaign contributions," state prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said. "Illegal straw contributions in names other than one's own to evade such laws cannot be tolerated."

Brown faces six counts. He could face penalties that include up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.

Brown, who worked for Pugh as a campaign spokesman, said Monday he hadn't yet seen the charges and declined to comment.

Pugh said she was "saddened by the allegations."

"Still," she said in a statement, "Mr. Brown is presumed innocent while the investigations continue."

Later, in an interview, Pugh called Brown a "nice young man."

"I've known him for quite some time," she said. "He's always worked hard."

She said she planned to review her campaign finances in light of the charges.

"I have a mechanism in place to make sure that everything is done properly," she said. "We'll go back through the process, and make sure that every 'i' is dotted and 't' is crossed."

Before working on Pugh's mayoral campaign, Brown served as her legislative aide in the state Senate.

He sits on the Democratic Central Committee for the 40th Legislative District. That body recently nominated him to replace Del. Barbara Robinson, who was selected to replace Pugh in the state Senate. Brown beat fellow committee member Arlene Fisher by a 5-2 vote of the panel.

Brown's swearing-in as delegate, scheduled for Tuesday, has been canceled, an aide to House Speaker Michael E. Busch said.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said the administration has "rescinded" a letter appointing Brown to the House.

"He will not be moving forward," spokesman Doug Mayer said.

Scherod C. Barnes, chairman of the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee, said he is waiting for a legal opinion from the governor's office about how he should proceed. He said the committee wants to nominate a new candidate for the open seat.

If convicted, Brown could be declared ineligible to hold any public or party office for up to four years from the date of the offense.

State prosecutors were asked to investigate the Pugh campaign in March after a Maryland resident complained about $66,000 in checks sent to Pugh's campaign that bounced. Some mayoral opponents alleged that those contributions came from phony companies, which would have been illegal.

Davitt would not discuss that investigation.

Davitt said Monday it was "unknown" where Brown got the $18,000 he is accused of funneling through family to the Pugh campaign. He said the investigation is continuing.

Campaign finance records show Brown donated about $300 in his own name to the Pugh campaign during this past election cycle.

In 1996, former Maryland Jockey Club chief executive Joseph A. De Francis was found guilty of similar charges.

De Francis, who owned the Pimlico and Laurel racetracks, was charged with funneling $12,000 in campaign donations through his grandmother, aunt and uncle to the campaign of Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

He pleaded no contest to making illegal campaign contributions. He was fined $1,000 and received probation before judgment.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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