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State Prosecutor has opened investigation into Baltimore Mayor Pugh's 'Healthy Holly' book sales, her lawyer says

A lawyer for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Tuesday the state prosecutor has opened an investigation into sales of her self-published children’s book. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun video)

The Maryland State Prosecutor has opened an investigation into Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s sales of her self-published children’s books, Pugh’s lawyer said Tuesday.

“The mayor will be cooperating with that investigation to the fullest extent possible,” attorney Steven D. Silverman said in an email.

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Republican Gov. Larry Hogan asked State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt on Monday to start an investigation of Pugh’s $500,000 sale of the books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she was on its board. Several members of the Baltimore City Council, all Democrats, said Monday that they supported Hogan’s request.

Silverman revealed the investigation was underway after The Baltimore Sun asked for details about other sales of Pugh’s books to health insurer Kaiser Permanente and nonprofit Associated Black Charities.

“As this matter is now being investigated by the state prosecutor’s office, I am not in a position to comment,” Silverman, a criminal defense attorney, said.

Pugh, a Democrat, said Monday she was going on leave from her job as mayor to recover from pneumonia. City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, also a Democrat, is filling in as mayor.

The purview of the state prosecutor’s office includes investigation of political corruption and violations of election laws. The office said Tuesday that it does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

Pugh is the second Baltimore mayor in a decade to be investigated by the office; it convicted former Democratic Mayor Sheila Dixon in 2009 of embezzling gift cards meant for the poor.

Pugh’s book deals began in 2011 when she was a state senator. In a no-bid deal, the university medical system paid Pugh $100,000 in each of five transactions in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018 to purchase 20,000 copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books at $5 per copy.

She acknowledged last week that printing of the fourth batch of books was “delayed” and she is only now delivering books for which the medical system paid her $100,000 in 2017. She has returned $100,000 to UMMS intended for a fifth book.

Pugh was among nine members of the 30-person UMMS board that had contracts or other business deals with the medical system, The Sun reported last month. Pugh and two other board members have since resigned. Several others were placed on leave.

A retired investigator for the state prosecutor’s office also had requested a criminal investigation of Pugh’s books sales, filing a written complaint last month with his former employer.

James Cabezas said Pugh’s failure to disclose the UMMS book sales on her General Assembly ethics forms while serving as a state senator could amount to perjury or misconduct in office. Cabezas said in his complaint that omitting information on mandatory disclosure forms can result in perjury charges, if prosecutors can show that the official filling out the disclosure knowingly left something off.

Former Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance was indicted for lying on similar disclosure forms he filed with the school system about money a system contractor paid him.

On Monday, Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities confirmed they paid Pugh a further $200,000 for copies of the books. Pugh had previously said that UMMS was the only organization that paid her for the books. Silverman said Monday that the payments by Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities were for additional copies, not the roughly 60,000 books the medical system had already paid for. He has declined to provide documentation that additional books were published.

The Kaiser Permanente sales came as the insurer successfully sought a $48 million contract to provide health care for city workers and retirees. Pugh voted in favor of the contract as a member of the city’s spending board, which she controls.

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Democratic City Council members Shannon Sneed and Ryan Dorsey have asked the city’s Inspector General to investigate the awarding of the contract.

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