City Council President Brandon Scott has asked Baltimore’s inspector general to review the last five years of city contracts with Columbia financier and “Healthy Holly” book purchaser J.P. Grant.
The request comes in response to federal prosecutors’ contention that Grant knew he was inappropriately funding former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s political campaign by writing checks for her self-published children’s books.
“We are just trying to get all the facts,” Scott said Wednesday. “This is about making sure that the city is operating the way that it should be."
Scott also said he would be returning campaign contributions that he has received in recent years from Grant, the owner of Grant Capital Management and a major political donor in the city. He holds the city’s master lease, under which he serves as financier for an array of city purchases.
Grant declined to comment. Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming said her office was reviewing Scott’s request.
The request comes after Pugh pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion. The charges stemmed from a scheme in which she sold her self-published children’s books to organizations and individuals with business before the state and the city when she was a state senator and then mayor.
Pugh acknowledged knowingly seeking to defraud purchasers of her books, at times by reselling the same books to multiple purchasers or never printing the books at all. She paid little or no taxes on the windfall, she admitted. Guidelines suggest she could face five years in prison, prosecutors have said. Her sentencing is set for February.
In charging Pugh, federal prosecutors largely cast the purchasers of her books as victims to her scheme. Not Grant, who they alleged paid Pugh a total of $164,000 for Healthy Holly books.
In a stipulation of facts to which Pugh agreed, prosecutors wrote that a month before the 2016 mayoral primary election, Pugh approached Grant with a request for $50,000 for books, telling him she needed financial help for her campaign. Grant wrote a $50,000 check, prosecutors said.
“Grant understood that Pugh would use the money to produce and distribute the Healthy Holly books, with the balance of the money going toward her mayoral campaign,” prosecutors wrote. “Grant knew that providing money to Pugh’s campaign via Pugh’s company was a violation of Maryland’s election laws.”
Later in 2016, Pugh came to Grant again, telling him she wanted to buy a new home in which to entertain as mayor. He wrote her a $100,000 check, with “book donation” in the memo line, even though he understood some of the money would be going toward Pugh’s new home, prosecutors wrote.
Since 2003, Grant’s company has held the rights to the city’s master lease agreement. Through it, he has financed millions of dollars in deals. The arrangement allows Grant to provide upfront money quickly to do capital projects and be paid back with interest over time.
The Board of Estimates, under Pugh’s leadership, re-upped that master lease agreement with Grant Capital Management last year.
Among the deals Grant’s firm has financed is a $33 million upgrade to the city’s 911 system and a $53 million contract to install energy conservation systems in Baltimore’s public housing.
Scott said the review of Grant’s contracts helps show the public officials are committed to cleaning up city politics. “We have to make sure that everything that happened was done the right way and above reproach,” he said.
Scott said his campaign had received a total of $4,750 from Grant from 2015 to 2018, which it will return in full. Scott is currently running for mayor and will face sitting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young in the Democratic primary in April.
Young, who assumed the city’s highest post upon Pugh’s resignation, has also received campaign contributions from Grant. Young spokesman Lester Davis said the mayor would not interfere with continuing investigations by U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, who brought the charges against Pugh, by “hypothesizing or talking about ‘what ifs’ ” related to Grant.
“Considering that Mr. Hur has indicated that his work is not done, I don’t think the mayor is going to be commenting on an ongoing investigation,” Davis said. “He wants to allow the federal government to go about its work unimpeded.” Young had previously announced a review of city contracts with other buyers of Pugh’s books.