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Illustrator of Baltimore Mayor Pugh's 'Healthy Holly' books didn't know about University of Maryland Medical System deal

The illustrator of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s self-published “Healthy Holly” book series says he was unaware of her deal to sell $500,000 worth of the books to the University of Maryland Medical System, where the mayor sat on the board of directors until resigning this week.

What’s more, Andre Forde says, he’s never actually met his collaborator.

“She has an assistant who sends me information regarding the scope and idea of the next book,” he said in an interview Wednesday with The Baltimore Sun. “I’ve never met her in person.”

Forde, an artist and entrepreneur who grew up in Baltimore and moved to Orlando, Fla., in 1994, said he illustrated the books for free, but members of his team were paid — he declined to say who or how much — for “integrating the words and some coloring.”

Pugh, who had served on the UMMC board since 2001, stepped down from the board Monday amid a firestorm of criticism for failing to fully disclose the $500,000 she received from the medical system for 100,000 “Healthy Holly” and “Healthy Herbie” books since 2011. She says she paid taxes on the books and has returned the most recent $100,000 she received from the medical system, which classified the book purchases as “grants” in federal tax filings.

Forde, 49, says a mutual friend connected him in 2008 with Pugh, then a state senator, who told him over a series of phone calls about her idea for a children’s book to help combat childhood obesity.

He had never illustrated a children’s book, he says, but he had done digital illustrations in the 1990s for educational entertainment software focused on mathematics. And growing up in Baltimore, he’d seen firsthand the saturation of candy, ice cream and other unhealthy snacks — especially in the city’s low-income communities — and felt driven to help Pugh emphasize the value of nutrition.

The books encourage exercise and healthy eating, featuring a fictional young African-American girl named Holly, who loves to jump rope, pick out fruit from the grocery store and play with her little brother, Herbie.

“I thought it was a great initiative,” Forde said. “I wanted to be a part of it.”

While his team was paid, Forde says he declined payments for illustrating the books. He didn’t need the money, he says, because Image Cafe, a company he co-founded that sold professional website templates to businesses, had been acquired by Network Solutions for $23 million in 1999.

“I wasn’t interested in making a profit,” Forde said. “I felt like I was doing a good deed. No royalties, no equity — I wasn’t interested in that.”

Pugh confirmed she made payments to Forde’s team, but said she could not recall the amounts because “it was more or less at different times, because some books took more time than others.”

The total amount was “quite a bit,” she said, “but I’m not going to give you all that.”

The only other contributor whose name appears in the books is Carmellita Green, who is credited with “book layout and back cover design” and is listed as owner of Executive Business Solutions, LLC.

Pugh said she also paid Green, but would not say how much. The mayor said she believes Green works for the city but does not work for her directly.

Green is executive assistant to Kimberly Morton, Pugh’s former chief of staff who is now deputy director of the Department of Public Works. Green was transferred from the mayor’s office to public works along with Morton last year.

Green hung up on a Baltimore Sun reporter who called her cellphone Wednesday and did not respond to a follow-up voicemail message.

Forde says he found out about Pugh’s deal with the University of Maryland Medical Center this week after being contacted by The Baltimore Sun. He says he isn’t bothered by the mayor’s $500,000 in book orders from the hospital system whose board she sat on — and whose budget she oversaw as chair of the Senate Finance health subcommittee, which approved millions in state aid to the hospital system.

“I think there’s two sides of the story,” Forde said. “Anytime you’re publishing a paperback book, you have to pay for printing, distribution. … To me it was nothing, I wasn’t flabbergasted.”

While he was not privy to the sale of the books to the medical system, Forde said, “I don’t think there was malicious intent.”

He says he maintains lots of admiration for Pugh and praised her “strong character and fortitude” as well as her political accomplishments. Their books — nearly 9,000 of which are sitting in a Baltimore City Public Schools warehouse after being received in an “unsolicited” donation, according to school officials — are a valuable resource to students, Forde says.

“Education is so important, and I think those books are definitely educational,” he said.

Forde hasn’t illustrated any other books since the most recent “Healthy Holly” installment. But there might be more in the future.

“Last year, the assistant reached out to me and sent me a synopsis of what future titles could be,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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