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Baltimore Sun wins George Polk Award for coverage of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s ‘Healthy Holly’ scandal

The Baltimore Sun won the prestigious George Polk Award on Wednesday for its coverage of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” book scheme that led to her resignation from office in May and federal charges against her.

The distinction for political reporting recognizes reporter Luke Broadwater and the staff of The Sun for revealing municipal corruption. The Sun shares the award with Chance Swaim, Jonathan Shorman and Dion Lefler of The Wichita Eagle, whose reporting led to the ouster of that city’s mayor.

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The George Polk Awards in Journalism, established by Long Island University in 1949, recognize outstanding works in media every year. The judges honor reporters for deep, original works that often “achieve results” or create reform in communities.

The Baltimore mayor’s fall from grace began in March, when The Sun revealed that about a third of the appointed members of the University of Maryland Medical System’s board, including Pugh, had business deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each with the medical system.

In particular, The Sun’s reporting revealed Pugh had solicited entities with ties to Baltimore to purchase copies of her “Healthy Holly” children’s book series, starting when she served as state senator and continuing beyond her run for mayor in 2016. She collected $500,000 from the medical system and $300,000 more from other entities and individuals.

The Democrat resigned from the UMMS board shortly thereafter along with several other board members. The board’s CEO, Robert A. Chrencik, was placed on leave and eventually resigned in April. Pugh stepped down as mayor in May, after federal agents raided her City Hall office and her houses.

Pugh pleaded guilty in November to four criminal counts, acknowledging that she defrauded area businesses and nonprofit organizations to unlawfully enrich herself, promote her political career and illegally fund her campaign for mayor. Though her customers ordered more than 100,000 copies of the books, prosecutors say Pugh failed to print thousands of copies, double-sold others and took some to use for self-promotion.

Pugh, 69, used the profits to buy a house, pay down debt, and make illegal straw donations to her campaign, prosecutors said.

Pugh awaits sentencing Feb. 27. Prosecutors, in a sentencing memorandum filed last week, made a case for her to spend nearly five years behind bars, though her attorneys argued for one year and a day.

Broadwater, who covers Maryland politics in Annapolis, said The Sun uncovered the scandal “as a team," with several staffers in different departments contributing significantly to the coverage.

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“It’s a huge honor for the paper. We’re very appreciative,” he said. “The whole newsroom rallied around a big story and did important work.”

The Sun last won a Polk Award in 2007, for a series of articles about an experimental drug used on U.S. service members in Iraq.

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