Prosecutors filed a 37-page sentencing memorandum Thursday making the case for former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to spend nearly five years behind bars for conspiracy and tax evasion related to her self-published “Healthy Holly” books.
Pugh pleaded guilty in November, a day after prosecutors filed an 11-count indictment against her alleging that she used her self-publishing business to enrich herself, promote her political career and illegally fund her 2016 campaign for mayor. Seven of those counts were dropped as part of her plea agreement.
The sentencing memo, the first filed in the case, comes ahead of Pugh’s scheduled sentencing on Feb. 27 and sheds new light on the details of Pugh’s crimes that were not entirely revealed in her indictment.
Below are some of the highlights of the memo:
Prosecutors are asking for a longer sentence because of the “sophistication” of Pugh’s crimes
In the sentencing memo, prosecutors said Pugh created an “elaborate pretense” of a business relationship between her Healthy Holly business and the company of longtime aide Gary Brown, GBJ Consulting. Pugh felt the faux relationship was needed to deflect scrutiny from the Maryland Election Commission and law enforcement, the memo states.
That ruse extended to Pugh and Brown’s tax filings for 2016. The pair “synchronized” false information on their tax schedules that “lined up with the made-up business records,” prosecutors said.
“Such meticulous attention to detail to cover her tracks, including fabricating convincing business records and synchronizing multiple federal filings, speaks to Pugh’s mendacity and her committed indifference to the rule of law in order to get ahead financially and politically,” the memo states.
Pugh initially hid her cell phone from FBI agents during an April 2019 raid
FBI agents raided Pugh’s home in an effort to seize, among other things, her personal cell phone. According to the sentencing memo, Pugh handed over a red, city-issued iPhone, but told investigators that her personal phone, a Samsung, had been left with her sister in Philadelphia.
An agent then called the Samsung phone, the memo states.
“Almost immediately, the agents heard a vibrating noise emanating from her bed. Pugh became emotional, went to the bed and began frantically searching through the blankets at the head of the bed. As she did so, agents starting yelling for her to stop and show her hands,” prosecutors wrote.
Pugh had grabbed the phone from underneath her pillow, and the agents took it from her.
“Pugh’s lie and futile attempt to silence the phone to prevent its seizure is indicative of her lack of respect for the law and, more broadly, her past efforts to hide longstanding criminal misconduct,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors repeatedly highlighted Pugh’s ‘brazen’ lies
In at least nine instances, prosecutors directly accused Pugh of lying both in 2017 appearances after Brown was charged with election law violations and in 2019 after The Baltimore Sun began reporting on the conflict of interest created by the book deal between University of Maryland Medical System and Pugh, a member of the system’s board.
“Well, as far as I know, the campaign complied with election laws," the memo quotes Pugh as saying, calling it “another brazen lie.”
The memo also highlights a March 2019 statement Pugh made to the press in which she said the net profit to her company for her books amounted to $20,000 for each book University of Maryland Medical System purchased.
“In fact, Pugh’s net profit per book sold to UMMS was approximately $81,000, four times higher than she claimed, not to mention the money she received from fraudulently reselling them and their value as promotional giveaways,” the memo states.
New numbers are revealed
The memo offers striking detail about the scope and money involved in Pugh’s crimes.
For example, Pugh printed 20,100 copies of her second book, “A Healthy Start for Herbie” — 20,000 of which were ordered by University of Maryland Medical System and 100 copies for herself, according to the memo. She delivered 1,400 of those copies to her legislative office in Baltimore. The balance were stored at a Baltimore City Public Schools warehouse.
Despite having no more than 100 copies in her own inventory, Pugh sold 3,756 copies to four clients for $26,840 between August 2012 and December 2015, according to the memo.
During the April raid, only 1,393 copies of the “Herbie” book were found. More than 16,000 copies were distributed through giveaways.
In some cases, Pugh received payments for books she never intended to print, according to the memo. In October 2016, University of Maryland Medical System gave Pugh a $100,000 donation for 20,000 copies of her fourth book. None were ever printed, the memo states.
“Overall Pugh’s inventory of Health Holly books never exceeded 8,216 copies,” the memo states. “Yet, after employing all three dimensions of her scheme, she was able to resell 132,116 copies for a total of $859,960, and she dissipated another 34,846 copies via giveaways."
The child obesity epidemic “perfected” Pugh’s “deception”
The healthy message associated with Pugh’s books helped buyers to overcome whatever hesitation they had about the deal, prosecutors argued in the memo. Pugh repeatedly pitched the books as the solution to childhood malnourishment and poor health, they said.
“Passing out free copies to potential voters and their children helped cement her claim as the candidate of change,” prosecutors wrote.
“If Pugh ever truly believed that to be the case, the money and power she gained from years of fraudulent sales and deceptive tactics corrupted that ideal and replaced it with a depraved notion of what public service means.”
The healthy message combined with Pugh’s stature caused people to avoid questioning her integrity, prosecutors argued.
“No one would ever suspect that a person of her stature was selling stolen books, much less books that had been donated to school children,” the memo states.