Federal prosecutors are seeking nearly three years in prison for ex-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s aide Gary Brown Jr., saying he carried out an “eight-year pattern of nonstop criminality.”
Brown was key to four different schemes, sometimes acting in concert with Pugh and other times acting alone, prosecutors said. They noted that he played the role of “bagman” for a campaign finance scheme in addition to helping carry out the “Healthy Holly” children’s book scandal. For his efforts, he nearly was rewarded with an appointment to the state’s House of Delegates.
“Brown and Pugh worked closely to promote the scheme for their joint benefit,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum that requests a sentence of 33 months. “As the face of the company, Pugh was the one who lured customers to the scheme, but as the one in charge of operations, Brown managed the scheme.”
Brown is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 11. His defense attorney has not yet filed a response.
Pugh is serving a three-year sentence at a federal prison in Alabama. Pugh’s political fall began when The Baltimore Sun reported she had entered into a no-bid deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, where Pugh sat on the board of directors, to buy 100,000 copies of her sloppily self-published “Healthy Holly” books for $500,000. She later resigned from the board and as mayor amid multiple investigations into her finances and the book sales. In total, she netted more than $850,000, prosecutors say.
At the same time, she failed to print thousands of copies, double-sold thousands more and took many others to use for self-promotion, according to prosecutors. Investigators also uncovered that she laundered illegal campaign contributions and failed to pay taxes.
Brown worked from 2011 to 2019 as Pugh’s legislative aide in the Maryland Senate and eventually as the deputy director of special events in the Mayor’s Office.
Prosecutors say Pugh relied heavily on Brown to execute the Healthy Holly scheme, delegating “virtually all the operational aspects” to Brown.
“Unquestionably, he was her right-hand man from start to finish,” prosecutors wrote.
Brown solicited buyers for the books, drafted the invoices, picked up the purchase checks, corresponded with the company’s illustrator, copy editor and printer, transported books and deposited proceeds. Much of the work took place while he was on the clock for his government jobs, prosecutors wrote, adding he sometimes enlisted the unwitting help of other public employees.
“Without Brown’s behind-the-scenes supervision of the enterprise as Chief Operating Officer (COO), and without his unwavering commitment to Pugh to keep the scheme concealed for so long, they never would have succeeded in defrauding so many businesses out of so much money, nor advanced their careers the way they did,” prosecutors said.
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Brown had a close call when he was criminally charged by the state prosecutor’s office in 2017 for making illegal straw campaign donations.
“Instead of recognizing the state charges as an opportunity to disengage from Pugh, cooperate with the authorities and pursue a different career, Brown recommitted to a future with Pugh,” prosecutors wrote.
Brown entered an Alford plea, meaning he admitted there was enough evidence to find him guilty without admitting his guilt. He never implicated Pugh, who set up Brown with a criminal defense attorney and paid his $18,000 in legal fees, prosecutors wrote. It cost him a seat in the House of Delegates, for which he had been nominated, but he kept his job in City Hall until it was raided by the FBI in 2019.
The sentencing memorandum says Pugh wanted to boost her reported fundraising totals, and suggested that straw donors be paid from Healthy Holly’s business account. Brown recruited members of his family as well as non-family members, paying them in cash or purchased debit cards. Her campaign finance report was boosted by almost $36,000.
Prosecutors say Brown manufactured fake records to create the appearance of a business relationship between his consulting company and Pugh’s Health Holly operation, creating three years of backdated invoices to correspond with the billings on the company’s account statement.
Other tax documents then were manipulated to offset the straw-donor checks, filing 1099 tax forms for fictitious employees and business expenses, according to the sentencing memo.
Brown also helped Roslyn Wedington, the former director of the nonprofit Maryland Center for Adult Training, evade payroll taxes on her salary, prosecutors said. Wedington has also pleaded guilty but has not been sentenced.