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Judge sentences former Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn to 2 years, says she ’sold her office to pay the bills’

Former Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn’s “deliberate scheme” to take bribes for votes added to Maryland’s perceived “pay to play” political culture, a federal judge said in sentencing her to two years in prison. In this Jan. 22, 2020, photo, Glenn arrives at U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Former Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn’s “deliberate scheme” to take bribes for votes added to Maryland’s perceived “pay to play” political culture, a federal judge said in sentencing her to two years in prison. In this Jan. 22, 2020, photo, Glenn arrives at U.S. District Court in Baltimore. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun)

Former Baltimore Del. Cheryl Glenn’s “deliberate scheme” to take bribes for votes added to Maryland’s perceived “pay to play” political culture, a federal judge said Wednesday in sentencing her to two years in prison.

“Former Del. Glenn sold her office to pay the bills. She knew it was wrong,” and it was not a one-time lapse, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said. “It was a deliberate scheme to take advantage of her political power.”

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Glenn, 69, is a Democrat first elected in 2006 to the House of Delegates. She established herself as a leading proponent of the use of marijuana for medical purposes and served as the chair of the Baltimore delegation until her resignation from office in December. The state’s medical cannabis commission is named in honor of her late mother.

She acknowledged in a January plea agreement that she asked for and received bribes to carry out political favors related to the industry she helped build.

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“Cheryl Glenn solicited and accepted more than $33,000 in bribes in exchange for official actions instead of doing her duty and putting the interests of the public above her own,” U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur said in a statement. “We expect our elected officials to serve the public, not to use their positions of authority to line their own pockets.”

The sentencing Wednesday afternoon was held over a video conference call due to the ongoing social distancing measures taken by the court amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Glenn sounded tearful as she spoke Wednesday, asking the judge for leniency that would allow her to serve her sentence at home. Glenn said she hoped her case would be an example to other leaders in office, and that they might be deterred from wrongdoing.

“My hope is elected officials will learn from what I have done,” Glenn told the judge. “There is a different standard for elected officials,” a higher standard, she said.

Blake noted Glenn’s contrition, and said her crimes fall short of some other high-profile Maryland political corruption cases, mentioning in particular former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh of Baltimore. Pugh is serving a three-year federal prison sentence for her “Healthy Holly” book sales, which netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars, including from organizations with business before the city.

By contrast, Glenn pleaded guilty to receiving about $33,000 in bribes.

“I do not put former Delegate Glenn in that category [of other corruption cases],” Blake said. “Nonetheless, a sentence of probation would not be sufficient.”

Prosecutors asked for a three-year prison sentence, and Blake said the sentencing guidelines — which are not binding — called for a longer term of 46 to 57 months. The guidelines are based on several factors, including Glenn’s position in public office and her lack of a criminal history.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise argued Glenn was a corrupt politician whose case has done more harm than any good that came from the rest of her career in public service.

Wise said that at a time when “authoritarianism is on the rise in our world,” acts of corruption increasingly make the public deeply distrustful of their leaders and can undermine the representative system. That system functions on the belief that leaders such as Glenn have the public’s best interest, and not their personal gain, at heart, he said.

“A jail term is necessary as deterrent,” he told Blake.

The grand jury indictment of Glenn said she accepted five bribes during an 11-month period in 2018 and 2019 to introduce legislation favorable to people and groups giving her the money.

She took $3,000 for votes that would benefit an out-of-state medical marijuana company, and $5,000 to commit to legislation that would help a business seeking a medical marijuana license, according to prosecutors.

Glenn accepted another $5,000 to file a bill to lower the number of years of experience required for a medical director of an opioid clinic, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Glenn actively sought these payments, including telling an associate about her outstanding tax debt as a hint that someone should pay it if they wanted her help.

During a 2018 meeting to discuss cannabis licenses, prosecutors said, Glenn offered a simple answer when asked how companies could secure a license without the help of expensive lobbyists: “They know God and Cheryl Glenn,” she told a would-be license holder.

Glenn’s attorney, William C. Brennan Jr. said Wednesday that quote was taken out of context and didn’t show arrogance on his client’s part.

He said it was referred to a small, Black-owned company whose owners were religious and wanted a grower’s license. Brennan said when asked how that small company got a license without a high-priced lobbyist, Glenn responded that the answer was saying prayers and meeting with Glenn.

Brennan and several members of Glenn’s family told the judge that Glenn’s actions are not representative of her character or her career.

Glenn’s daughter, Nikila Savage, spoke of mother’s dedication to her family and community. She said that leaders are human beings who “are far from perfect and sometimes make mistakes.”

She said her mother overcame a difficult childhood, including abuse, periods of homelessness and upheaval. But she persisted, and made a career for herself, Savage said, adding Glenn served as the PTA president at her daughter’s elementary school, and continued to work for community groups before becoming a legislator.

Brennan said Glenn accepted responsibility for her actions, which he described as acts of desperation.

Brennan said his client was reeling from financial hardship after the unexpected death of her husband in 2015. Her home had several tax liens against it, as well as a leaky roof and mold issues. Glenn struggled to pay such expenses following issues with her late husband’s life insurance policy.

She supported her children and grandchildren but was now cash-strapped, he said. “One thing led to another,” Brennan said, and she “fell victim to these crimes.”

Since the case unfolded, Glenn has lost her reputation, political seat and her pension, compounding her struggles, he said.

He said that Glenn has medical issues and serving her sentence in prison would put her at heightened risk for contracting the coronavirus, which is more dangerous for older people and those with existing health conditions.

Blake said she appreciated the arguments made by Glenn, her attorney and family members, but ultimately, but there is also was a public interest to be considered.

Blake also ordered Glenn to pay $18,750 in restitution.

Glenn is the latest Baltimore politician to receive a prison sentence in a corruption case. In addition to Pugh, Democratic Sen. Nathaniel Oaks was sentenced to 3½ years after admitting to taking $15,300 from an FBI informant who posed as an out-of-town developer and enlisted Oaks in a plan to defraud the federal government. Oaks was granted compassionate release in June, 21 months into his sentence, due to health concerns related to COVID-19.

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

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