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Crime

As Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby turns defendant, residents debate whether charges are fair or political persecution

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has been for months calling the investigation into her finances a “witch hunt,” and now that she’s been charged, David Turner agrees.

“She stuck her neck out there during the Freddie Gray thing — a lot of people were opposed to that. She’s a female. She’s a Black female. She’s an intelligent Black female,” said Turner, 53, a resident of West Baltimore.

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But John Hamilton, 60, isn’t buying that. He supports her policies, including ending arrests for low-level drug offenses, but says she needs to be held to the same standards of the law as anyone else.

“She is expecting us to do the same thing and she is breaking the law — sure it’s fair,” Hamilton said outside Lexington Market. “If we did it, it’d be something different: We’d go straight to jail.”

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Baltimore residents and other leaders interviewed by The Baltimore Sun were divided in their reactions to Mosby being indicted Thursday by federal prosecutors: Are the charges justified because Mosby’s an elected official who should be held to the highest ethical standards? Or is the four-count indictment politically motivated, targeting her because she’s a progressive prosecutor who’s shaken up the status quo?

Elected in 2014, the two-term Democratic state’s attorney has already been, at times, a polarizing figure. Now she’s facing felonies that could bring prison time: two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements on loan applications to buy properties in Florida — a condo on the Gulf Coast and an eight-bedroom rental home near Disney World.

Federal prosecutors say Mosby cited financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic under the federal CARES Act. That enabled her to withdraw $81,000 from her retirement savings without a penalty in 2020 for down payments on the properties in Florida. During the same year, according to the indictment, her salary climbed by $10,000, to almost $250,000.

Mosby denies wrongdoing. She struck a defiant tone Friday at a news conference, declaring her innocence and describing years of adversity. From charging six Baltimore Police Department officers in 2015 in the death of Gray to ending the prosecution of low-level drug offenses and prostitution, her tenure as state’s attorney has been scrutinized, she said.

Mosby said she was ready for that much.

“What I did not expect is to be personally mocked and ridiculed, sued, or to have to incessantly fight to keep my law license. … to receive hate mail and death threats and to have the safety of my daughters compromised by the media,” she said. “I did not expect to need 24-hour armed security. I did not expect to incur personally $500,000 in legal bills defending myself from frivolous investigations and attacks.”

Some who spoke to The Sun see the charges against Mosby as an attack targeting her because of her progressive positions.

“You had to dig that deep into somebody’s personal finances to find something? It’s a witch hunt,” Edward Smith, 65, said outside of Mondawmin Mall. “Somebody doesn’t like her.”

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But Kim Holmes, 60, who works at Super Fried Chicken in Lexington Market, has no tolerance for alleged misdeeds by city leaders. In fact, she thinks Mosby’s charges contribute to the city’s greater ills: Baltimore must hold its elected leaders to a higher standard, she said.

“She’s accountable because she is the head of us; we’re the body. If the head of the body is decaying, the rest of us will fall,” Holmes said. “That’s why there’s corruption in the city.”

Smith, Holmes and other residents expressed opinions about the indictment as Baltimore’s elected leaders, including Mosby’s husband, Democratic City Council President Nick Mosby, have stayed mostly quiet. Nick Mosby was not named in the indictment and has not been accused of a crime by federal prosecutors.

Some of Baltimore’s Black leaders chalked up their hesitation to speak out to conflicted feelings about holding elected officials to the highest ethical standards while seeing the biggest public corruption cases in recent years brought against Black officials.

Former Morgan State University professor Lawrence Brown, who examined the racial history of Baltimore in his book “The Black Butterfly,” questioned why Black politicians seem to be continuously prosecuted for tax crimes and false statements on financial documents.

He noted the white-led institutions involved in former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” book scheme were not pursued by federal authorities, while Pugh is in prison.

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“This pattern doesn’t feel like it’s equal prosecution under the law,” Brown said. “Like there’s a sense they’re targeting Black elected officials who may not fall in line.”

Mosby told reporters she felt targeted, and that the charges against her were unfounded.

“I did not defraud anyone to take my money out of my retirement savings and I did not lie on any mortgage application,” she said.

Fred Schott of Charles Village was among the Baltimore residents who said they didn’t understand how federal authorities concluded Mosby’s actions were criminal.

“It makes no sense — because she took her retirement money out, and she put some information on mortgage application, how do they know she couldn’t claim a COVID exemption?” Schott said.

Meanwhile, Turner, of West Baltimore, wants to know more about the coronavirus’ impacts on Mosby’s side businesses, which includes a travel company she formed in 2019. He suspects those enterprises took a hit during the pandemic, even though Mosby previously said her businesses were not functioning, had not received “one cent,” and that she had no plans to run them while in office.

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The indictment against Mosby lays out what prosecutors consider a fraudulent scheme.

Mosby used the money she got through the COVID hardship claim toward the rental property near Orlando, federal prosecutors allege. They said she also misled lenders by failing to disclose a federal tax lien against her and by misstating her plan for the property, allegedly claiming it was a second home, rather than a rental property, which could’ve resulted in a lower mortgage interest rate.

Dmitry Gorin of the Los Angeles-based criminal defense law firm Eisner Gorin, has defended both lenders and borrowers in mortgage and other real estate fraud cases.

Such charges are filed frequently, albeit less so than a decade ago after the 2008 housing crisis, and they require the government to prove fraudulent intent — that Mosby knew she was lying, he said. It’s a crime that amounts to “essentially defrauding a bank,” according to Gorin, and “can be proven based on documents signed under the penalty of perjury.”

Gorin and two other experts told The Sun that the U.S. attorney’s office was unlikely to have brought an indictment against a high-profile public official without investing considerable time, thought and resources.

Federal authorities subpoenaed a wide range of the Mosbys’ financial records — tax returns, bank and credit card statements, loan documents and more — as part of their investigation. That led many, including Marilyn Mosby’s attorney, to believe initially that they were seeking criminal tax-related charges against the power couple.

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David Jaros, faculty director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at University of Baltimore School of Law, said it’s unlikely the U.S. attorney’s office generally focuses resources on the type of violations outlined in the indictment against Marilyn Mosby.

However, Jaros said, it’s not surprising that federal prosecutors would pursue charges if they uncovered alleged violations in the course of a different investigation, especially when looking into public officials and, in particular, attorneys or prosecutors.

Mosby said she was denied the opportunity to present exculpatory evidence to the federal grand jury, deriding the indictment as “merely a political ploy by my political adversaries to unseat me.” Mosby and her attorney have pointed out that a key federal prosecutor previously has donated to her opponents’ campaigns.

The indictment landed just five months ahead of a June 28 primary. Though Mosby has not publicly declared her bid for a third four-year term, her campaign has begun to raise money and she has two Democratic challengers.

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DeRay Mckesson, a prominent activist who has taken up the cause of Keith Davis Jr., a man being tried a fifth time for murder by Mosby, called for Mosby to step down.

“We trust the state’s attorney to prosecute crimes, not perpetuate them,” he said. “We hold Mosby to a higher standard. She’s failed to meet that standard and she should resign. If found guilty, she’ll have to face those consequences. "

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But defense attorney Warren Brown, who has expressed support for Mosby in the past, said he believes the charges are an attempt to remove Mosby from office. He said he warned her when she won office that she was going to have to “watch her back.”

“In their mind, it’s enough to get her out of office, and say to other progressive prosecutors that, ‘We really don’t find favor with that,’ that philosophy,” Brown said. “‘We don’t consider you as a part of the team pushing back against criminal behavior and protecting the status quo, the establishment.’”

On Baltimore’s streets, some reserved judgment. Margaret Branch, 63, of Cedonia in Northeast Baltimore, said she’d draw conclusions when the criminal justice system works Mosby’s case out.

“We’ll find out later down the line if it’s really true or not,” Branch said. “We don’t know if she’s guilty or innocent; they got to prove that.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Justin Fenton, Billy Jean Louis, Lorraine Mirabella and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.


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