From time to time over the past few months, employees at the Maryland Book Bank have found a trash bag waiting for them on their loading dock in Woodberry — each one stuffed with “Healthy Holly” books.
“Every time they’ve come in, it’s never been just five or six” books, said Kim Crout, the nonprofit organization’s program manager. “It’s always been a trash bag of 20 or 30, and they’re always just left here when we get in.”
The drop-offs began before the children’s healthy lifestyle books became the subject of scandal in March. That’s when The Baltimore Sun began a series of articles about their author, then-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, making approximately $800,000 from selling them to the University of Maryland Medical System and other entities with business before the city. The Democratic mayor was a member of the hospital network’s unpaid board of directors.
Pugh subsequently resigned and is under investigation by the FBI, the state prosecutor’s office and the city ethics board. In late April, FBI investigators raided City Hall and Pugh’s two houses, among other locations, carrying out books and documents linked to the deals.
Still, the volume of “Healthy Holly” books in Baltimore continues to swell.
Pugh’s attorney, Steve Silverman, said late last week that she has now fulfilled her “obligations” under a 2017 deal with UMMS to produce 20,000 books — the last of four such batches. Silverman would not say where the books went, and UMMS declined to comment.
Officials with the Baltimore City Public Schools, where Pugh said the books were meant to go, said they never asked for them and didn’t receive the latest installment.
Silverman said the copies at the book bank aren’t coming from Pugh.
“No one associated with Healthy Holly LLC or Catherine Pugh has any knowledge that this is occurring, and if true, who is doing this and the source of the supply of books,” he said Tuesday.
Leaders of the book bank, which collects donated books and gives them to people in communities without regular access to them, don’t know who is bringing the books, either. But they say they have continued to arrive at the big warehouse alongside train tracks in Woodberry.
The books, once received, have something of a mixed market, they said.
Crout said she has tried in the past to interest kids who come to the book bank or its roving Bookmobile in the “Healthy Holly” books. But the kids don’t want them.
“It’s like they have a nose for the fact that they’re crap,” Crout said of the books, which suffer from editing mistakes.
However, other people have shown intense interest in the books.
Television news networks have asked the book bank for copies, offering to pay, and another person wanted to buy a complete set for $500, said Mark Feiring, the book bank’s executive director.
He turned them all down.
“We don't sell kids’ books at all. We just put them out there for people to take,” Feiring said.
And when he does put them out, they now get scooped up, he said, by adults who laugh and take pictures.
“It's like finding the golden ticket,” he said. “It’s pretty funny.”
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A lot of “Healthy Holly” books have come through the book bank. About a month before The Sun first reported on Pugh’s deals with UMMS, a couple of boxes containing about 50 to 75 “Healthy Holly” books showed up, Feiring said.
“I think they still had elastics on them. They were obviously brand-new,” he said.
After the scandal broke, Crout said a co-worker came to her and said, “I think I have something you want to see,” before leading her to another bag of “Healthy Holly” books outside.
“Some guy just dumped them in the back,” Crout said.
Feiring said volunteers sorting books have come across “Healthy Holly” books, as well. About 20 copies of the second book in the series — “Healthy Holly: A Healthy Start for Herbie” — arrived last week, he said.
“I have one sitting on my desk that came in the other day,” Feiring said Tuesday.
Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.