BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison and three years of probation after pleading guilty to multiple charges in the “Healthy Holly” book scandal.
Pugh walked into a federal courthouse Thursday morning for her sentencing in a lucrative, years-long scheme in which she sold her self-published children’s books to nonprofits and foundations to promote her political career and fund her run for mayor.
The sentencing came hours after Pugh’s lawyers released a pre-produced video apology from her.
WHAT WE KNOW:
- Catherine Pugh was sentenced to three years in prison and three years of probation
- She has until April 13 to turn herself in
- Pugh will turn 70 on March 10
- The former mayor will have to pay nearly $412,000 in restitution and forfeit nearly $670,000 in property
- Pugh pleaded guilty to four federal charges in November, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of tax evasion
- The FBI raided City Hall and Pugh’s home in the early morning hours of April 25, 2019
- Pugh resigned as the city’s 50th mayor on May 2, 2019
At sentencing, Judge Deborah Chasanow said Pugh’s actions were not simply a lapse in judgment.
“This became a very large fraud,” Chasanow said.
Judge Deborah Chasanow said this was not a tiny mistake or lapse in judgement. “This became a very large fraud.” She called the disruption to the city “drastic”; impact on Baltimore “very tragic”.
— Paul Gessler (@PaulGessler) February 27, 2020
Chasanow called the disruption to the city “drastic” and the impact on Baltimore “very tragic.”
Pugh sat silent as her sentence was read. Her comments in court largely echoed those she made in the video the defense team released Wednesday night.
During her approximately 12-minute remarks to the court, Pugh did not offer an explanation for her behavior.
“While I have done some good things, they will forever be overshadowed by the wrongs I’ve done,” Pugh said in her statement.
Outside the courthouse, Pugh repeatedly apologized to the citizens of Baltimore, saying she believes the city will move forward. “None of this was intentional,” she said.
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- Catherine Pugh Awaits Sentencing In ‘Healthy Holly’ Case As Supporters Urge Judge To Be Lenient
- READ: Catherine Pugh’s Plea Agreement
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"None of this was intentional, the- what it turned out to be. Today I face the justice system." Pugh said.
— WJZ | CBS Baltimore (@wjz) February 27, 2020
“Sometimes when you think you’re doing one thing, as my mother used to say, ‘It’s not what you intend to do, it’s what you do,’ and all of us pay the price for the things that don’t turn out the way that they should turn out,” Pugh said.
Pugh also thanked her supporters and said she looks forward to rebuilding her life.
“It’s not the last you’ll see of Catherine Pugh,” she said.
The former mayor will have to pay $411,948 in restitution and forfeit $669,688 in property, including her home on Ellamont Road.
Pugh’s attorneys had asked for a sentence of one year and one day, which would have allowed her to be released early for good behavior.
At a news conference after Pugh’s sentencing was announced, U.S. Attorney Robert Hur said holding public office is a rare privilege and Pugh’s actions “undermine(s) everyone’s faith in government.”
“This is a tragedy and the last thing our city needs,” Hur said.
Hur said while his office had asked for a nearly five-year sentence, Chasanow clearly put a lot of thought into the sentence.
“This is not a light sentence in my view and should not be regarded as such,” he said, adding he’s confident Chasanow considered “everything she needed to do under the law.”
George Murphy, the assistant special agent in charge with the IRS’ criminal investigation unit, said Pugh “chose a path of greed and corruption.”
“Public officials must abide by the laws,” he said. “This should serve as a reminder to the public that everyone must pay their taxes”
Five people spoke on Pugh’s behalf during sentencing, including former Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
“I went over to see her a couple of weeks ago and it was hard for her to complete a full sentence without crying,” Schmoke said.
Schmoke said Pugh never underestimated the seriousness of the scandal for her and for the city as a whole.
“The whole series of incidents was a real body blow to the body politic, the city, it was a very serious matter for the entire city,” he said. “But I think we can get on to the prospect of healing, now look to the future.”
Douglas Colbert, a professor with the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, described the sentencing as “a very solemn occasion” for the city.
“It was a very serious crime and series of crimes that Mayor Pugh pled guilty to,” he said. “On the other hand, the judge balanced those crimes against the very good public service that Mayor Pugh has been engaged in for most of her political life.”
The 69-year-old pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges in November, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of tax evasion.
She had been accused of defrauding people who bought her “Healthy Holly” children’s books out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, then using the money to fund her campaign for mayor.
The veteran Democratic politician was elected mayor in 2016 and resigned in May after authorities began investigating bulk sales of her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks that netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars.
On Wednesday night, Pugh released an almost 13-minute long video apologizing to “the citizens, to young people, to partners, my friends, everyone I’ve offended (and) everyone I’ve hurt.”
“I accept total responsibility. I accept total responsibility. I plead guilty, I’m sorry. I don’t know any other words that could be stronger. I’m so sorry.” Pugh said in the video.
She said she knows this has brought negative attention to the city she once led.
“By pleading guilty and by being involved in all of this that has led me here today, it’s created such a ringing negativity on our city,” Pugh said.
Pugh has until April 13 to begin serving her sentence.
WJZ reporters Paul Gessler, Ava-joye Burnett, Rachel Menitoff and Pat Warren contributed to this story.