Too late for Marilyn Mosby — the Baltimore City State’s Attorney was indicted on Thursday by a federal grand jury — but here’s what I think every public official in Maryland needs to read and sign before they take office:
“I fully understand that anything and everything I do, in public or private, could easily cause me to become the subject of gossip and intense scrutiny by my political opponents, the news media, inspectors, auditors, state prosecutors and federal prosecutors. I understand that Maryland has a long history of political corruption and an equally long history of aggressive prosecutors who seldom lose a case. I acknowledge that, in the Information Age, the feds have a lot of tools at their disposal to catch me in the act of a financial crime. Should I attempt to do anything sleazy or stupid, it might cause me to be indicted, arrested, imprisoned or sent into low company. And I know what’s sleazy and what’s stupid, so help me God.”
Or something like that.
It needs to be stated clearly. The standard oath of office is one thing, a pledge against stupidity and/or sleaze is quite another.
And apparently necessary.
You’d think all people in public office would understand this by now — Maryland gave the world Spiro Agnew 50 years ago, for cryin’ out loud — but indictments keep happening.
As a rookie reporter for the late, lamented Evening Sun in 1976, I was assigned to help with the coverage of a federal trial. When I asked who was on trial, an editor barked, “The governor.”
So, in the year 2022, when you tell me Baltimore’s top prosecutor — a Boston College Law School graduate, for cryin’ out loud — has been indicted for trying to fraudulently obtain thousands of dollars for property in Florida, I have to believe she missed some basic training.
At the least, you’d think Mosby would have noticed what’s been going on around here these last few years. Doesn’t she read a newspaper?
A partial list: A mayor convicted of theft; another mayor incarcerated after being caught in a scam involving a children’s book; a state senator in federal prison for fraud; a state delegate in federal prison for fraud and bribery; a former chief of staff for the governor charged with fraud and embezzlement; one of the region’s bigshot attorneys charged with extortion.
So I don’t get how Mosby thought she would get away with what the indictment alleges — that, while pulling down nearly $250,000 in salary in 2020, she claimed pandemic-related hardship to obtain money from her city retirement savings to purchase two Florida properties. She’s also accused of lying on loan applications, another federal offense.
Her lawyer claims the feds are carrying out some sort of vendetta and suggests that prosecutors are racially motivated to go after Mosby, who is Black. That’s an interesting accusation in light of the fact that Erek L. Barron has been U.S. Attorney in Baltimore since October. Barron is the first Black person to hold that powerful position. His signature is on Mosby’s indictment.
One of my many contacts in the city, an opinionated fellow on the west side who regularly offers me his pithy take on things, suggested that federal prosecutors had stretched to find a Mosby misdeed.
He’s a Mosby supporter who thinks she can do no wrong, so I wasn’t surprised that he said that.
What surprised me in all this was the level of Mosby’s gall — that, according to the indictment, she exploited a pandemic relief provision that allows people hurting financially to tap into their retirement accounts without a major tax hit. It doesn’t strike me as a very clever endeavor. We’re talking about allegedly lying on forms, creating a digital/paper trail, for cryin’ out loud.
While Mosby obviously has attracted federal attention because of her position, her decision to apply for pandemic relief while reporting nearly $250,000 in income to the Internal Revenue Service probably triggered an alert.
The feds have been sniffing out fraud related to the billions in relief that Congress authorized for the health crisis, and there have been recent indictments right here in Maryland.
A partial list: A 35-year-old Baltimore woman charged with fraudulently obtaining money from two federal loan programs to pay for plastic surgery and home renovations; a Chevy Chase attorney accused of swindling a medical equipment company and a Hong Kong investor in a deal for personal protective equipment; a 45-year-old Bowie man accused of fraudulently obtaining loans through the government’s Payroll Protection Program; three Prince George’s County men charged with impersonating people who lost their jobs during the pandemic in an effort to obtain unemployment benefits.
The indictments in the four cases I just cited allege millions of dollars in fraud. In Mosby’s case, the sum is much lower; the feds says she applied for two hardship draws, totaling $81,000, from her city retirement account in 2020.
Now, when millions are involved, especially for businesses that only claim a few employees, you can bet alarms go off in the U.S. Attorney’s office and the IRS.
On the lower end, where individuals might try to exploit a program for people genuinely harmed by the pandemic, maybe the alarms don’t sound right away. But they eventually do.
And, if the feds are already watching you, chances are pretty good they’re going to catch you and you’ll go to prison, and you should know all that by now, for cryin’ out loud.