After years of obscurity, “Healthy Holly,” the heroine of a series of children’s books by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, is suddenly front-page headline news.
The fictional child seems harmless — after all, she just wants kids to exercise and eat healthy. But when it emerged in mid-March that Pugh sold the books for $500,000 to the University of Maryland Medical System, whose board she served on while a public official, and didn’t properly disclose her ‘Healthy Holly’ business in ethics forms, a Baltimore scandal was born.
Though Pugh at first defended her standing on the board, she resigned this month after a public outcry.
» Pugh joined the board of the University of Maryland Medical System.
» In January, Pugh, then a Maryland state senator, incorporated “Healthy Holly LLC.”
» The University of Maryland Medical System first purchased 20,000 “Healthy Holly” books authored by Pugh. The health-care system later donated the books to Baltimore schools and to area day cares, according to Pugh.
» The medical system later placed orders again in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018, with the total purchases valued at $500,000. Some of the payments were labeled in federal tax filings as grants — a move tax experts say was improper.
» An aide to Pugh said she's netted, after expenses, about $100,000 from five orders of the books. She did not properly disclose her income from “Healthy Holly LLC” in ethics forms.
» In November, Healthy Holly LLC gave a $5,000 check to Pugh’s campaign for mayor of Baltimore, campaign finance records show.
» The University of Maryland Medical Center and the Midtown Campus were part of a $60 million decade-long agreement the city struck with 14 hospitals to help pay for public safety and other city services.
» Columbia businessman J.P. Grant said his company cut a check for $100,000 to then-Baltimore mayoral nominee Catherine Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC in October 2016. He said he received a copy of one book but no documentation of how his money would be used.
» In December, Pugh became mayor of Baltimore.
Healthy Holly LLC gave $1,000 through ticket purchases to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s campaign in August, as well as $1,000 to state Sen. Jill Carter’s election committee in June.
» In March, Carter, a Baltimore Democrat, sponsored a bill that would make it illegal for board members to profit from contracts with the hospitals they govern.
» Pugh resigned from the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors after coming under fire for failing to fully disclose the $500,000 business relationship she had with the system.
» Two other board members, John W. Dillon and Robert L. Pevenstein, resigned. And four more took a leave of absence.
» The Baltimore school system has confirmed that nearly 9,000 of the mayor’s books are sitting in boxes in a Baltimore warehouse.
» Pugh called inquiries into her deals with the University of Maryland Medical System a “witch hunt.”
She also said she returned the most recent $100,000 she received from the medical system amid questions about the deal.
» University of Maryland Medical System CEO Robert A. Chrencik was placed on leave amid accusations of self-dealing and no-bid contracting with board members.
» Pugh’s inaugural committee shared records that show that in 2016 it received a $20,000 contribution from the University of Maryland Medical System.
» Pugh apologized for the book deal, saying there are 20,000 books for which she was paid $100,000 in 2017 that were “delayed” and are only now being shipped.
» Kaiser Permanente confirmed it paid Pugh approximately $114,000 to buy about 20,000 copies of the books, paid for in multiple orders from 2015 to 2018, a period when the company was seeking a $48 million contract to provide health benefits to city employees.
And the nonprofit Associated Black Charities says it collected nearly $90,000 from five separate entities — including CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, another city insurer — to buy and distribute 10,000 copies of Pugh’s books, forwarding nearly $80,000 of that to Pugh’s company and pocketing the rest.
» Pugh announced she would take a leave of absence.
» Pugh’s lawyer confirmed the Office of the State Prosecutor has opened an investigation into her book sales.
» The executive director of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund — a quasi-public entity mean to aid hard-to-insure drivers — confirmed the company made a $7,500 donation in 2012 to Pugh while she was serving in the state Senate. It was shortly before she successfully sponsored legislation supported by the company.
» Former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly and two of his sons took voluntary leaves of absence from six boards affiliated with the University of Maryland Medical System amid the controversy over the network’s operations.
Baltimore Sun reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.