Aide to Baltimore mayor Pugh pleads guilty to campaign finance violation

An aide to Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh was found guilty Tuesday morning of violating election laws for funneling cash to Pugh's campaign through relatives, the state prosecutor said.

Gary Brown Jr., 35, entered an Alford plea in Baltimore Circuit Court to two counts of making illegal campaign contributions, one day before he was scheduled to go to trial.

An Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain innocence while acknowledging that prosecutors enough evidence to win a conviction.

Prosecutors said the source of the cash remains unknown, and a spokesman for Pugh said Brown remains employed at City Hall.

Circuit Judge Charles J. Peters imposed a sentence of probation before judgment on one year of supervised probation, which means Brown can erase the conviction if he successfully completes probation.

Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, whose office brought the charges, said he had asked for a suspended jail sentence of one year.

Brown's attorney, Jason Downs of the Murphy, Falcon and Murphy law firm, declined to comment.

Brown worked as a legislative aide to Pugh in the state Senate and on her mayoral campaign, and has continued working for Pugh at City Hall since the charges were filed. Pugh's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, said Tuesday that Brown's status at City Hall "remains unchanged."

"He is a member of the communications team for the Mayor's Office," McCarthy said in an email.

The charges did cost Brown a seat in the Maryland General Assembly —he was indicted by a grand jury just days before he was to be sworn in as a state delegate. The seat was later given to former City Councilman Nick Mosby.

The charges against Brown were one of two actions taken by the Office of the State Prosecutor against Pugh's campaign. A political slate funded by former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. was fined $3,000 for making an unlawful $100,000 loan to Pugh in the waning days of the primary election campaign.

Smith now works as Pugh's chief of strategic alliances, with a $175,000 salary.

State prosecutors were also asked to investigate the Pugh campaign in March after a Maryland resident complained about $66,000 in checks sent to Pugh's campaign that bounced. Some mayoral opponents alleged that those contributions came from phony companies, which would have been illegal.

Davitt said that investigation is continuing.

Prosecutors said Brown deposited cash into the bank accounts of his mother, stepfather and brother before the Democratic primary for mayor last year and then immediately contributed that money to the Pugh campaign in their names.

The contributions totaled $18,000. The most an individual can give to a candidate during a campaign cycle under Maryland law is $6,000.

Davitt said it's unknown where Brown got the money he is accused of funneling through family to the Pugh campaign. Brown donated about $300 in his own name to the Pugh campaign during this past election cycle, records show.

"Election laws are in place to maintain the integrity of the electoral process and foster transparency in the regulation of campaign contributions," Davitt said in a statement. "Illegal straw contributions in names other than one's own to evade such laws cannot be tolerated."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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