Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that she wasn’t aware that the Internal Revenue Service had flagged an issue with Darryl De Sousa’s taxes more than two years before she named him police commissioner in January.
De Sousa pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three counts of failing to file his federal tax returns. He faces as much as three years in prison and a $300,000 fine when he is sentenced in March.
As part of the plea, De Sousa admitted that the IRS mailed a letter to him and the Police Department in December 2015 alerting officials to problems with how much tax was being withheld from his paycheck.
Pugh said at her regular weekly news conference that the letter was not included in the files her team reviewed as part of the process of appointing De Sousa police commissioner.
“If we had known that there was information that should have been in the file that was not there, we would have information that we could have asked questions about,” the mayor said. “There was no information regarding any of this in his files.”
De Sousa also admitted in court that his tax problems went beyond merely failing to file returns and included a number of efforts dating as far back as 1999 to reduce how much he paid in years when he did file returns. He wrongfully claimed deductions for work and business losses, charitable donations and mortgage interest payments. In all, De Sousa owed state and federal tax authorities $67,587, prosecutors said.
And, as the IRS pointed out in its letter to De Sousa and the Police Department, he claimed more allowances than he was allowed, which substantially reduced the amount of taxes withheld from his salary each year.
When De Sousa was charged in May, Pugh initially expressed “full confidence” in him, suspending him for just a day when the tax allegations became public. The mayor has said as recently as November that she stands by her decision to hire De Sousa; she said he was the right person to become police commissioner and that “no one was more strategic and focused.”
Asked if the admissions De Sousa made Tuesday changed her opinion of him, Pugh said she was surprised by the new details that were revealed.
“I’m not responsible for what people do about their personal lives,” the mayor said. “Some of the allegations or some of the admissions that were made were as surprising to me as to other people, I’m sure, in our community.”
De Sousa resigned the week after the tax charges were filed. Gary Tuggle, one of De Sousa’s deputies, was named interim police commissioner while the mayor began the hunt for a full-time replacement. City Solicitor Andre Davis acknowledged at the time that the mayor’s staff needed to be more thorough when it came to vetting candidates for senior posts.
Pugh has chosen Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald as the next police commissioner, but he is facing heightened scrutiny from members of the City Council, in part because of the charges against De Sousa. The mayor hired private investigators to look into Fitzgerald’s background and produce a report.
Four members of the council have demanded access to details about Fitzgerald’s past before they would be willing to vote for him. Last week, council members were shown part of the investigators’ findings, but two described the report as “heavily redacted” and said interviews with references and people who know Fitzgerald were withheld entirely.
The city’s lawyers have declined to release the investigators’ findings publicly, but Davis has said that the background investigation found no issues with Fitzgerald’s personal finances.
Council leaders are also vetting Fitzgerald independently. Four senior members of the council traveled to Fort Worth this month to meet people familiar with his work there. The group is expected to issue a report early in the new year that will detail their findings.