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The mysterious disappearance of 'Healthy Herbie': Where did 20,000 copies of Baltimore Mayor Pugh's books go?

In late March 2013, a Federal Express truck pulled up to a loading dock behind the Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters on North Avenue and unloaded 186 boxes that had been sent from a printer in Winnipeg, Canada. An operations staff member signed for the delivery.

Inside those boxes were 18,600 copies of “A Healthy Start for Herbie,” the shipping document says, fresh off the presses. The first run, some 1,500 copies, had been delivered to the author, then-Senator Catherine Pugh, just about a week before.

ONGOING | Coverage of University of Maryland Medical System board deals and Mayor Pugh's 'Healthy Holly' books »

The shipping record shows the big batch that landed at the school system were sent to the attention of Andres Alonso, then the schools’ CEO.

But where the books went after the loading dock is unknown.

“The big mystery is ‘A Healthy Start for Herbie,’” said schools spokeswoman Anne Fullerton. “We have no recollection from staff of moving them to the warehouse.”

The district is investigating the shipment, but as of Wednesday, schools officials have found no records showing the books were distributed to schools or anywhere else.

The school system has been under intense scrutiny for the past few weeks to account for the books. Before Mayor Pugh went on leave this week citing health reasons, she publicly called on the district to make clear what happened to them.

Pugh was paid $500,000 by the University of Maryland Medical System during a time when she was a state senator and then mayor — and sat on the hospital network’s board of directors. That money was supposed to buy 100,000 “Healthy Holly” books for the city’s schoolchildren in five installments from 2011 to 2018. The “Herbie” book was the second installment.

But even after days of front-page headlines, no one has stepped forward to account for all the books. UMMS said through a spokesman that “production and distribution of the books was managed by Healthy Holly LLC,” Pugh’s book company.

The first shipment of roughly 20,000 copies arrived in 2011, after school officials had reviewed the book and agreed to take it from UMMS for distribution to children.

The questions are about subsequent books — particularly the March 2013 shipment.

In a statement this week in response to questions from The Baltimore Sun, Alonso said he and his staff didn’t know another shipment was coming after the first one in 2011. Alonso, who resigned as schools CEO in June 2013, said he had never heard about the “Herbie” book before this week.

After speaking to all his former top staff in recent days, he said, he is confident none of them had “any role in the movement of this shipment.”

Alonso said he can’t speculate on what happened.

“The simplest thing at the time, for me, would have been to send the books back to the publisher or the printer or the author. I would have applauded anyone taking that step if it had come to my attention: the books were not solicited or approved by me or the Chief Academic Officer [Sonja Santelises] or anyone on her team; therefore they did not belong in the system,” he said in a statement.

Pressed on how the school system could have lost track of thousands of books delivered to its headquarters, Alonso and current district officials stressed that the matter remains under investigation.

“I want to emphasize my fierce hope that the school system’s ongoing investigation of this matter will shed light on your questions,” Alonso said in an email.

The school official in charge of the warehouses in 2013 was Keith Scroggins, then the district’s chief operating officer. Two years later in 2015, Scroggins said recently, he directed a third shipment of “Healthy Holly” books to a district-owned warehouse after they arrived at the same loading dock.

“I didn’t do that in 2013 because I wasn’t aware of any shipment,” Scroggins said. “It is possible that they were delivered and stored with academic materials next to the loading dock.”

Tisha Edwards, who was the system’s chief of staff in 2013, said she has a vague memory of the books’ arrival, but doesn’t know whether it was in 2011 or 2013.

“I have a recollection of us receiving at least one order of books,” she said.

Edwards, who went on to become Pugh’s mayoral chief of staff, said she was focused on many other important issues in the school system.

“It is not something I remember having any involvement in,” she said.

More questions have arisen about the distribution of the books since it became clear that, in addition to her deal with UMMS, Pugh also sold a combined 30,000 books to healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente and the nonprofit Associated Black Charities.

At her press conference, Pugh provided documentation that roughly 60,000 books that UMMS paid for were delivered to the Baltimore school system. She has provided no record that additional books were printed. The company that printed the 60,000 says it was not asked to print any others.

Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities have not responded to questions about whether they purchased “Herbie” books or another title in Pugh’s five-book series.

Pugh’s lawyer, Steven Silverman, stressed to the The Sun that the books she sold to Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities were not those that UMMS already paid her. He declined to provide documentation that 30,000 additional books were printed.

While school system officials say they don’t know what happened to the second shipment of books, they issued a statement this week saying Pugh’s representatives came to a district warehouse to retrieve books from the third shipment. The school system has no record of how many were taken.

Tracking Healthy Holly books

Below is an accounting of each title in Mayor Catherine Pugh’s self-published “Healthy Holly” series, as determined through interviews and public records.

“Healthy Holly: Exercising Is Fun” (2011)

» 20,020 copies sent to Baltimore schools headquarters

» 2,090 sent to then Senator Pugh’s Baltimore office

School district officials say several current and former staff members recall some books being distributed to schools in 2011 and 2012. The district has no documentation tracking how the books were distributed, and they have found no copies in system-owned warehouses or elsewhere.

“Healthy Holly: A Healthy Start for Herbie” (2013)

» 18,600 copies sent to city schools headquarters

» 1,500 sent to Pugh’s Baltimore office

The school district confirms it received copies of the second Healthy Holly installment in March 2013, based on the printer’s bills of lading and signed delivery receipts obtained from FedEx Freight.

“We are continuing to investigate and to speak with current and former staff members about the circumstances of this shipment,” district officials said in a statement. “We have not been able to locate any copies of this title in the warehouse or elsewhere, and we have no record or staff recollection of this book being distributed to schools.”

“Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow” (2015)

» 19,500 copies sent to city schools headquarters

» 1,500 copies sent to Pugh’s Baltimore office.

District officials believe the entire shipment of these books was moved to an off-site warehouse shortly after it was delivered in August 2015. Nearly 9,000 copies remain in that warehouse, and no other copies have been found in another location.

District staff recall Pugh representatives coming to retrieve the books from the warehouse on several occasions over the next three years — though they have no documentation showing when or how many were taken.

“Healthy Holly: Vegetables Are Not Just Green” (2017)

Pugh has provided no documents to prove these books were printed. She acknowledged last week that although she was paid $100,000 in 2017 for 20,000 books, the production was “delayed” and they are only now being shipped.

At least some copies of this book exist. At a Kaiser Permanente-sponsored event in October 2018, Pugh was photographed reading the book to families and signing copies for children.

The school system has “no record or recollection of any additional titles in the Healthy Holly series or of any contact from the University of Maryland Medical System or Mayor Pugh regarding a potential fourth shipment.”

“Healthy Holly: Walking With My Family” (2018)

Pugh has said she returned to UMMS the $100,000 it paid her last year for a fifth installment of the Healthy Holly series.

trichman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/TaliRichman

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