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Gary Brown Jr., longtime aide to ex-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, sentenced to 27 months on corruption charges

As a longtime aide to Catherine Pugh, Gary Brown Jr. followed her from the Maryland Senate to Baltimore’s City Hall. Now, like Pugh, he is headed to federal prison.

Brown, 38, was sentenced Friday afternoon to 27 months in prison, following his guilty plea to corruption charges for carrying out a variety of schemes with Pugh. Judge Deborah K. Chasanow handed down the sentence in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, and also ordered Brown to pay $14,000 restitution.

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“You were a full-fledged criminal," Chasanow told Brown. “You got in it; you were willing to do it. You knew better, but you didn’t let it stop you, year after year after year.”

Prosecutors said Brown 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.

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Federal prosecutors had asked for 33 months behind bars and wanted Brown to be ordered to pay more than $400,000 in restitution.

Brown’s attorney, Barry Pollack, asked Friday that he be sentenced to home detention, citing COVID-19 and what he argued was Brown’s lesser role in the conspiracy. Pollack argued to Chasanow that Brown was not motivated by personal profit and did not enrich himself off the schemes, but rather looked up to Pugh and wanted to help her achieve her goals.

“He thought she was moral and the real deal, and he felt devoted to her,” Pollack said.

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.

Prosecutors Martin Clarke and Leo Wise said Pugh relied heavily on Brown to execute the book scheme, delegating “virtually all the operational aspects” to Brown.

“Unquestionably, he was her right-hand man from start to finish,” the prosecutors wrote.

Chasanow agreed, saying Friday that Brown was an “essential co-conspirator.”

“Without him, this doesn’t happen,” she said.

“As a public servant, Gary Brown should have placed the interests of Baltimore City residents above his own,” U.S. Attorney Robert Hur said in a statement. “Baltimore City faces many pressing issues, and we need dedication and integrity from our public servants — not corruption — in order to solve them.”

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.

Brown had a close call when he was criminally charged by the state prosecutor’s office in 2017 for making illegal straw campaign donations.

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“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 acknowledged there was enough evidence to find him guilty without admitting 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 the Healthy Holly business account. Brown recruited members of his family, as well as nonfamily members, paying them in cash or purchased debit cards. Pugh’s 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 Healthy 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, such as filing 1099 tax forms for fictitious employees and business expenses, according to the sentencing memo.

With Brown’s help, family and friends received $100,000 in tax refunds that they were not entitled to, Chasanow said.

Brown briefly spoke at the hearing, apologizing for his actions. His attorney said Brown came from humble beginnings and enjoyed doing work for the public. Prosecutors said Brown was trying to climb the political ladder.

Chasanow wondered about his motives for his crimes, but said it ultimately didn’t matter.

“This went on year after year after year after year,” she said. “It went right on until this prosecution finally unraveled the entire scenario.”

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