xml:space="preserve">
Maryland State Prosecutor Charlton Howard on Wednesday announced a criminal charge of perjury against former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, alleging she broke the law by failing to disclose her “Healthy Holly” children’s book business on financial disclosure forms during her time as a state senator. Pugh is shown taking the oath of office as a senator in 2011.
Maryland State Prosecutor Charlton Howard on Wednesday announced a criminal charge of perjury against former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, alleging she broke the law by failing to disclose her “Healthy Holly” children’s book business on financial disclosure forms during her time as a state senator. Pugh is shown taking the oath of office as a senator in 2011. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)

The state prosecutor announced a criminal charge of perjury against former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, alleging Wednesday she broke the law by failing to disclose her “Healthy Holly” children’s book business on financial disclosure forms during her time as a state senator.

The state charge follows Pugh’s federal indictment and guilty plea last month on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, and two counts of tax evasion involving the self-published books.

Advertisement

The new charge, entered Wednesday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, alleged Pugh reported other business ties as required, but did not disclose her interest in Healthy Holly LLC. It said the omission was “pursuant to a common scheme and plan to conceal the nature and extent of her business.”

“Transparency from our elected officials is an essential aspect of protecting Maryland residents from corruption and political malfeasance,” State Prosecutor Charlton Howard said in a statement. “Our office is committed to ensuring that those who abuse positions of trust in our state and local governments are held accountable by the state of Maryland.”

Steven Silverman, Pugh’s attorney, declined to comment on Wednesday.

Pugh, a Democrat, was in the state Senate from 2007 to 2016, when she became mayor. She represented the 40th District, which includes West and Southwest Baltimore, as well as parts of Hampden and Mount Vernon.

After The Baltimore Sun reported in March that Pugh did not disclose $500,000 in book sales to the University of Maryland Medical System, where she was on its board of directors, the mayor amended seven years of reports filed with the state ethics commission.

She resigned as mayor in May.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan asked the state prosecutor’s office in early April to investigate the book purchases outlined by The Sun, calling what the newspaper uncovered — particularly Pugh’s book sales to the hospital network — “deeply disturbing.”

“Governor Hogan pledged to put an end to business as usual, and will continue to insist on the highest ethical standards for public officials,” Hogan’s spokesman, Mike Ricci, said Wednesday night.

Silverman said at the time that Pugh would cooperate with the state prosecutor’s investigation "to the fullest extent possible.”

In reading a statement of facts last month in federal court, prosecutors noted Pugh had not properly disclosed her financial interests while in the General Assembly, as required by Maryland law.

Prosecutors in Howard’s office noted in the criminal information they filed against Pugh that during the time when the medical system was paying Pugh for her books, she served on the Senate Finance Committee, which considered issues related to health care facilities, and from 2013 to 2016 was chairwoman of the Senate Health Subcommittee.

They allege Pugh made $345,000 through sales of her books in 2016 alone. The Sun previously reported Pugh made more than $800,000 in total sales.

They noted she routinely disclosed ownership in her clothing and Catherine E. Pugh & Co. companies, but not of Healthy Holly LLC.

She is set to be sentenced on the federal counts Feb. 27, and federal prosecutors have said the suggested sentence is around five years in prison. The state charge of perjury, a misdemeanor, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Advertisement

Pugh is scheduled to make an initial appearance Jan. 13 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis, according to online court records.

Democratic Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore, the incoming Senate president, said the latest charge represents “another chapter in a very, very sad story of what happens when the focus on the people who sent us [to Annapolis] gets lost.”

“I’m sure we’ll learn more as the case unfolds, but it should be a lesson to all public servants to focus on what matters most, and that’s serving the people,” he said. “Disclosure matters.”

Andrew I. Alperstein, a former Baltimore County prosecutor now in private practice, said the state prosecutor is sending a message to lawmakers.

“I suspect the state charged it for no other reason than for precedential value,” Alperstein said. “They want to say, ‘Hey, this is something we’re serious about,’ to all the other people who are required to file those forms. They’re sending that message strong.”

Alperstein added that a pending state case or additional criminal conviction could cause difficulties for Pugh if she’s sentenced to prison in the federal case by making her ineligible for early release or placement in a halfway house.

“It can really cause problems if you’re a federal inmate,” he said.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on the latest charge.

Pugh is not the first Maryland politician to face repercussions for failing to disclose business activities while in office.

In 2012, then-Sen. Ulysses Currie was censured on the floor of the Senate for not reporting that he was paid nearly $250,000 by the Shoppers Food Warehouse grocery chain to represent it before state agencies. Senators also found Currie voted on bills when he had a conflict of interest, abused the prestige of his office and acted as a lobbyist. The censure came after a federal prosecutors charged the Prince George’s County Democrat with extortion and bribery. He was not charged with perjury; prosecutors alleged his conduct amounted to a bribery scheme. He was acquitted.

In 2010, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon was forced from office as part of a plea agreement on a perjury charge that she failed to disclose on city ethics forms gifts she received from a developer. The plea deal came after a jury convicted Dixon of a separate count of stealing about $500 in gift cards intended for needy families. Dixon is running again for mayor in the April 28 Democratic primary.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement