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Kaiser Permanente, Associated Black Charities paid Baltimore Mayor Pugh almost $200K for 'Healthy Holly' books

The University of Maryland Medical System wasn’t the only major buyer of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” children’s books.

Health provider Kaiser Permanente paid Pugh more than $100,000 to buy about 20,000 copies of her books during a period when the company was seeking a lucrative 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 previously said that the $500,000 she was paid by UMMS for 100,000 books represented her only sales. On Monday, her attorney, Steven Silverman, did not dispute the purchases as described by Kaiser and Associated Black Charities. He stressed only that they had not purchased books UMMS had paid for already.

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

Silverman said he didn’t have information about who printed the other copies of the books nor whether anyone else had bought copies.

“I’m not able to give a rundown of every sale to every entity,” Silverman said.

Asked why Pugh had previously told a reporter at The Sun that only UMMS had bought books, he said he didn’t know.

The payments to Pugh by the medical system, where she sat on the board, were revealed by The Baltimore Sun last month. The news shook Pugh’s administration, forced her to resign from the medical system board and launched UMMS reform efforts in Annapolis.

Citing health reasons, Pugh took a leave of absence as mayor Monday after Kaiser confirmed to The Sun that it paid approximately $114,000 for the books in multiple orders from 2015 to 2018.

Associated Black Charities confirmed later Monday that it had collected $87,180 from five unnamed organizations for “Healthy Holly” books from 2011 to 2016, of which it retained $9,552. It distributed 4,100 books, and said 400 were water damaged and discarded. The other 5,500 books the nonprofit paid for were left to Pugh’s Healthy Holly LLC to distribute.

Diane Bell-McKoy, the president and CEO of Associated Black Charities, said in a statement the nonprofit wanted to get the books “into the hands of African-American children to help them learn about healthy behaviors.”

The firm Pugh has identified as her printer has said it produced only 60,000 copies under the UMMS contract, and has no more orders from Pugh.

Pugh, a Democrat, became mayor in December 2016. In September 2017, the city’s spending board, which Pugh sits on and controls, awarded the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. a $48 million contract to provide health insurance to city employees from 2018 through 2020, with options to renew. Pugh does not appear to have abstained from voting on the contract.

Associated Black Charities also does business with the city. In January 2018, the city spending board gave the organization control of a $12 million youth fund under a deal that awarded the nonprofit $1.2 million for administrative costs.

Kaiser issued a series of written statements to The Sun, acknowledging the book deal but saying it had nothing to do with the company’s business with the city — which it said began in 1986.

“Our purchase of the Healthy Holly books nearly 30 years after being selected as one of the health plan providers for the city employees has no connection with our commitment to continue offering our care to Baltimore City government employees,” it said.

The company said that since 2015 it has “purchased and distributed Healthy Holly, among other books, to families and children throughout Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. We have purchased and distributed about 20,000 Healthy Holly books, at a cost of approximately $114,000.”

A spokesman said the company bought the books because officials believed “residents would be inspired by a book about health and wellness authored by a member of the Baltimore community.”

The company pledged to review the process under which it purchases books.

Associated Black Charities said Monday that it re-examined its work with the mayor after the UMMS deal was revealed, and that its board unanimously passed a resolution prohibiting the organization “from entering into any business arrangements with any elected officials or any politically appointed persons, regardless of the person’s product and its relationship to ABC’s core mission and agenda.”

It also said it launched an independent review of donors and vendors, and voted to return the $9,552 it took for distributing the “Healthy Holly” books it purchased. It said it would return the money to the donors or donate it to a charity that focuses on children’s health issues.

In her Baltimore City ethics disclosures, Pugh reported ownership of Healthy Holly LLC in 2016 and 2017 and reported receiving income from the company in 2017. Under city ethics rules, she was not required to report the source of her company’s income.

In an interview with The Sun last month, Pugh said she had not sold books beyond those she provided for the UMMS deal.

Associated Black Charities declined to identify the five organizations that gave it money to purchase “Healthy Holly” books.

But CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield confirmed that it gave the nonprofit a total of $14,500 in 2011 and 2014 to pay for 2,000 “Healthy Holly” books. CareFirst also provides health insurance to city government workers, having won a $522 million contract at the same time Kaiser won its contract in 2017.

CareFirst said it gave the money to “support the purchase and distribution of books on healthy eating and exercise as part of childhood obesity prevention efforts.”

The book sales to Kaiser and Associated Black Charities come on top of Pugh’s book sales to the University of Maryland Medical System.

Pugh received $500,000 from UMMS to print 100,000 copies of her books through a no-bid deal during a time when she was a state senator and then mayor. She has provided documentation outlining the printing of about 60,000 copies of the first three books in her “Healthy Holly” series.

She acknowledged last week that she is only now delivering to Baltimore schools 20,000 copies of her fourth book, for which UMMS paid her $100,000 in 2017. She has returned $100,000 to UMMS intended for a fifth book.

The printer and Pugh provided receipts showing the vast majority of the 60,000 copies were shipped to the city school system, which Pugh has said was the intended recipient of the books. The school system has acknowledged receipt of some books but has been unable to account for all of them. It said 8,700 copies are sitting in a warehouse in the city. It has called the shipments “unsolicited.”

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

This article has been updated to clarify the arrangement by which CareFirst provided funds toward a book purchase.
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