Maryland political leaders had a muted reaction Wednesday upon learning that former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a longtime politician, was indicted on 11 federal charges related to her sales of self-published children’s books.
Federal prosecutors allege that Pugh’s scheme dated back to 2011, when she was a state senator, through her election as mayor in 2016 and her tenure at City Hall. She resigned as mayor in May.
Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who has been nominated to become Senate president in January, called Wednesday a “sad day for Baltimore, the Senate and all of Maryland.”
“The indictments today should be a reminder to all elected officials that nobody is above the law, and I commend the hardworking men and women of the state prosecutor and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their work,” Ferguson said in a statement in response to questions from The Baltimore Sun.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who took over after Pugh resigned in May, said he is “heartbroken and completely disappointed in today’s news.”
Anything that gives the city a black eye, he said, makes him and others angry.
“I pray for former Mayor Pugh and am focused on helping our city to heal,” he said.
City Council President Brandon Scott closed a routine Board of Estimates meeting at City Hall by addressing the charges. He said Baltimore is “a city facing a crisis in trust with our citizens."
Pugh’s alleged actions, he said, shake public trust and are especially painful at a time when the city is grappling with unrelenting violent crime. Scott said the council is working toward ethics reforms, with the judiciary committee meeting next week to discuss proposed rules for how elected officials should make financial disclosures.
“This is a message to the young people,” Scott said. “When you sign up to serve, you don’t sign up to become rich. You sign up to help and make other people’s lives better.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, whom Pugh brought to the city from New Orleans, also called it “a sad day for Baltimore.”
“We’re here now to move the city forward,” he said. “That’s what we are focused on every single day.”
In the state capital, aside from Ferguson, most political leaders were mum.
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Lawmakers had known about Pugh’s questionable deals to sell her self-published books to the University of Maryland Medical System and others since The Baltimore Sun revealed her hospital contract in March. After that, lawmakers rushed to pass legislation to reform the hospital system and its board.
Wednesday’s indictment revealed new details about the scope of Pugh’s activities, including that she allegedly stored some of the books in her Senate offices in Annapolis and Baltimore. Pugh’s attorney, Steve Silverman, declined to comment on the charges Wednesday.
Ferguson said he would consult with the Office of the State Prosecutor — which successfully prosecuted Pugh’s associate Gary Brown Jr. for a campaign finance violation in 2017 — to “ensure they have all the resources and legal backing" needed to root out corruption.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who plans to hold his leadership post until January, declined to comment. Miller had appointed Pugh to leadership roles in the Senate, including majority leader.
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in a statement: “Baltimoreans are resilient and, once again, we will pick ourselves up and keep moving forward. But, make no mistake, this was an abuse of public trust at a time when the City needs leaders to be bold and transparent.”
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is attending a Republican Governors Association conference in Florida, said in a statement that “it is completely unacceptable anytime a public official violates the public trust.”
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who chaired a state Board of Public Works meeting in Hogan’s absence on Wednesday, made no mention of the charges as he opened the meeting.