Baltimore Mayor Pugh says she stands by aide charged with campaign violations

Pugh: Aide charged with campaign violations will continue to work at City Hall.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said Wednesday that she is standing by her longtime aide, Gary Brown Jr., who was indicted last week on charges that he violated campaign finance laws.

Pugh said Brown will continue to work in her mayoral communications office, where he is paid $46,000 annually. She said Brown is "innocent unless proven otherwise" of charges that he illegally funneled money to her campaign through his relatives.

"Gary Brown has worked for us for almost a decade," she said. "He's a very good legislative person."

She also noted that the amount of money involved in the case — $18,000 — is relatively small when compared to the more than $2.5 million she raised while running for mayor.

"We raised over $2 million," she said. "If there is anything wrong with the funds we received, they will go back. We have returned checks in the past, and we will do that again."

Brown declined to comment. He was selected last month to fill a vacancy in the House of Delegates, but his swearing-in was called off after he was indicted Friday by a Baltimore grand jury on charges of making illegal campaign contributions.

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.

Before working in Pugh's administration, Brown served as her legislative aide in the state Senate and as a spokesman for her mayoral campaign.

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 Senate. The committee voted for Brown, 5-2, over fellow committee member Arlene Fisher.

The committee will vote again Thursday night for a replacement for Brown.

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.

State prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said this week it is "unknown" where Brown got the $18,000 he is accused of funneling through family to the Pugh campaign. He said the investigation is continuing.

Pugh said she did not know where Brown got the money involved in the case.

"I don't handle the funds," she said. "That's not my job."

Pugh's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, said she only learned of the investigation when the charges were announced Monday.

Damon Effingham, policy manager at government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, said state officials were right to block Brown's appointment to the legislature.

But he said he didn't object to Pugh's keeping Brown on at City Hall, because he is innocent unless proved guilty.

"There's a difference between keeping your job and being the representative of the people of Maryland," Effingham said.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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