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Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Democrat, speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Mfume was among several dozen people who submitted letters this week pleading for a lenient sentence for former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
Former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Democrat, speaks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Mfume was among several dozen people who submitted letters this week pleading for a lenient sentence for former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Kweisi Mfume, the Democratic nominee for the 7th Congressional District, was among dozens of friends, relatives and neighbors who pleaded for leniency for former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ahead of her sentencing in federal court, according to a memo her attorney filed Friday.

Mfume wrote in a one-page letter, dated Wednesday, that he’s known Pugh since they were college students in 1975 and that he considers her a friend.

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“Her life, legacy, reputation and name are all now permanently destroyed as a result of the consequences of her own actions,” he wrote.

Pugh is to be sentenced Feb. 27 by U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow in Baltimore.

Prosecutors have asked for nearly five years behind bars for the former Democratic mayor, who pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy and tax evasion.

Pugh has asked to serve one year and one day in prison.

She submitted nearly 50 letters, including Mfume’s, asking Chasanow to exercise leniency.

Mfume suggested that justice would be “better served” by giving Pugh supervised release and requiring her to work for a nonprofit rather than sending her to prison at age 70. Pugh is 69, with a birthday in March.

“Her skills and the accumulated knowledge she has gained over the years could be of valuable assistance to those community service groups, charities and organizations in need of experienced assistance,” Mfume wrote.

Anthony McCarthy, Mfume’s campaign spokesman, said the letter “speaks for itself" and Mfume would have no further comment.

David Wilson, president of Morgan State University, also weighed in on Pugh’s behalf. Pugh is an alumna of the school. In his two-page letter, Wilson said he often consulted with Pugh, both during her time as a state senator between 2007 and 2016 and once she became mayor. Pugh was frequently recommended as a resource, Wilson wrote.

Being mayor was Pugh’s “dream job," Wilson wrote, and she viewed the city’s children as her own.

“I can recall one conversation, in particular, where she was teary-eyed as she spoke about the ‘squeegee kids,’” wrote Wilson, noting Pugh would buy the car window washers clothing and food, and arranged for some to get jobs.

Calling Pugh’s crimes a “momentary lapse of bad judgment,” Wilson asked Chasanow to give Pugh a sentence involving community service.

“She understands the tremendous mistake she made which has resulted in the loss of the job that she has coveted for years,” he wrote. “I do hope your honor will take into account the punishment that she has experienced already.”

Pugh had just 8,216 copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books, but resold them repeatedly to organizations with business before the city, netting $859,960, prosecutors said in their sentencing memo filed Thursday.

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Pugh’s friend, W. Paul Coates, wrote one of the only letters to defend her work on the book series. Coates is a publisher and founder of Black Classic Press, and the father of author Ta-Nehisi Coates. He accompanied Pugh to court when she pleaded guilty in November.

In his letter, Coates maintained Pugh was committed to solving childhood health issues, and the books were an extension of her passion. Coates wrote he helped Pugh to publish a prototype of one of the books, and wished he had remained involved in the publishing.

“While Catherine was a model community advocate, and a successful public servant who introduced and supported many laws and resolutions benefiting the people of Baltimore City and the state of Maryland; she was, and I mean this with all due respect, a lousy publisher, with an inadequate structure to support the books she published,” he said.

Fred Lazarus, former president of Maryland Institute College of Art, submitted a three-page testimonial about Pugh’s work in Baltimore over the course of their 50-year relationship. Lazarus credited Pugh with bringing him the idea for the Baltimore Design School, a middle and high school that he said would not exist without her “passion, determination and hard work.”

“She had the vision, she helped us raise the money to buy and renovate a long-derelict building and start the school, and to recruit an outstanding board,” he wrote. “I and all the students and their families are indebted to her.”

Lazarus did not address Pugh’s sentencing directly or ask for leniency.

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