Pugh attorneys seek 1 year, 1 day in prison for ‘Healthy Holly’ scandal, citing personal toll of case

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Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh exits the United States District Court in Baltimore on Nov. 21, 2019, after pleading guilty to four counts — one each of conspiracy and fraud and two counts of tax evasion. (Ian Round/Capital News Service).

Attorneys for former Mayor Catherine Pugh are asking for a sentence of one year and one day in prison–nearly three years fewer than the sentence U.S. prosecutors are seeking.

In a sentencing memorandum Friday, Pugh’s attorneys asked for leniency in sentencing the former mayor for her crimes, based on her having already and continuing to suffer damage to her reputation, emotional distress, and economic loss due to the fraudulent behavior tied to sales and donations related to her “Healthy Holly” children’s book series.

“Ms. Pugh’s fall from grace, public humiliation, and front-page national disgrace are powerful and significant punishments,” her attorneys wrote. “She has already paid an extraordinary price for her conduct. As a result of her actions, she has lost everything that she has and everything she worked toward. She will be saddled with forfeiture and restitution orders that will hamper her financially for the remaining years of her life. She will lose her house and everything that she owns.”

In contrast, a sentencing memorandum from federal prosecutors on Thursday blasted Pugh’s conduct and called for her to be sentenced to 57 months in prison.

In November, federal prosecutors charged Pugh with 11 counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion related to the “Healthy Holly” scandal. Pugh pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion.

Prosecutors wrote in their memorandum Thursday that the scope and duration of Pugh’s offenses demonstrate Pugh mounted a calculated deception for personal and political benefit.

“Unlike some convicted fraudsters, Pugh’s decision to con book purchasers was not an impulsive one, nor the desperate act of someone facing financial ruin,” they wrote. “Rather, it was a well-considered business decision to achieve multiple ends.”

Prosecutors detailed how Pugh sold copies of her “Healthy Holly” books but would not deliver orders, use books purchased on behalf of a third party for her personal use, or resell copies that she had picked up from previous orders.

In addition to double-selling books, Pugh solicited campaign and personal donations through book sales.

In January 2016, while Pugh was running for mayor of Baltimore, she solicited campaign contributions from J.P. Grant, the owner and CEO of Grant Capital Management. Grant had already contributed the maximum amount of $6,000 to Pugh’s campaign, but he agreed to donate another $20,000 to the campaign despite such an action being in violation of state election laws.

Grant wrote a check using his wife’s account and made it payable to “2 Chic Boutique,” a women’s clothing consignment shop that Pugh ran with three other women with ties to Baltimore City government, including Comptroller Joan Pratt. Grant then had his wife sign the check without knowing its purpose, and a week or two later he delivered the check to Pugh at her senate office in Annapolis.

Prosecutors said Pugh demonstrated a pattern of repeatedly lying to community members about where the money from “Healthy Holly” book sales was going, and later to investigators and members of the press about various details of the criminal investigations the scandal set in motion.

In their memorandum, prosecutors detailed the events of April 25, 2019, when FBI and IRS agents executed a federal search warrant at Pugh’s residence, including a warrant to seize and search Pugh’s personal cell phone.

When asked for her personal cell phone, Pugh took agents upstairs to her master bedroom where she retrieved a red cell phone, which agents learned upon closer inspection was her city-issued iPhone.

Pressed for the location of her Samsung phone, Pugh maintained that she had given it to her sister when she was in Philadelphia. When an agent dialed the phone number assigned to the Samsung, a vibration emanated from Pugh’s 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 [sic] yelling for her to stop and show her hands. One of the agents grabbed her left shoulder and pulled her away from the bed. As he did so, agents could see that her left hand was empty. However, in her right hand, the one she removed from under the bed pillow, was the Samsung personal cell phone, which was still vibrating from the call the agent had just placed. The agents took custody of the phone.”

Pugh later admitted to agents that she had lied about the whereabouts of the Samsung.

Prosecutors said Pugh exploited her elected offices as a Maryland state senator and later as mayor of Baltimore City to fraudulently sell her “Healthy Holly” books under the guise of increasing healthy habits among Baltimore’s children.

Prosecutors noted that publication and sales of “Healthy Holly” books closely coincided with various electoral cycles that Pugh was a candidate in. 

The books were often used for political profit, prosecutors said, by handing out copies as giveaways at campaign and government events.

Prosecutors said purchasers admitted that buying books from Pugh, who had significant political influence, could benefit them through the awarding of contracts or voting on legislation that could affect their businesses.

“Agreeing to buy books that matched their corporate missions made more sense than dealing with the potential consequences of rejecting her solicitations,” prosecutors wrote. “Many of the purchasers acknowledged that they probably would not have purchased the books if Pugh had not been the author. In other words, her political influence was a significant factor in their decision.”

But Pugh’s attorneys maintained that the initial sale of books to UMMS arose from complete altruism by Pugh in her fight against childhood obesity, not out of malice or greed.

Pugh’s attorneys highlighted that their client had no criminal record and that other than the events surrounding the “Healthy Holly” scandal, she had “led an exemplary life of service to others.”

In a letter submitted in testimony of the former mayor’s character, Pugh’s niece, Maya Jackson, detailed how Pugh would often travel two hours to visit Jackson and her sister.

“She would take us shopping to make sure we were clothed. She would check our homework. Ultimately, she made sure we were pushing forward rather than giving up,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she didn’t understand at the time that, on top of being her aunt, Pugh was also balancing duties as a state senator.

“My aunt was barely sleeping. She would intentionally take the train so she could use that time to work on various projects and tasks she had going on with Baltimore city. She was going above and beyond not because she had to, but because she wanted to and because she cared.”

Yet prosecutors maintained that Pugh’s fraudulent behavior surrounding her “Healthy Holly” scheme demonstrated a neglect for her duties as state senator and mayor.

“The time Pugh spent on the job machinating about how to profit financially and politically from the Healthy Holly fraud was time not spent on executing the important duties of her offices,” they wrote. “The resulting cost from the damage done to the public’s trust through the corruption of her elected positions is incalculable.”

Pugh’s attorneys focused on the politician’s achievements while in office, such as signing Baltimore’s polystyrene ban, raising Maryland’s high school dropout age from 16 to 18 years old, removing numerous Confederate monuments from public display in the city and creating 44 Opportunity Zones to spark private investment and federal funds into distressed communities.

Due to her actions, Pugh’s attorneys said she has lost her emotional health, the trust of the community and any hope of serving as an elected official again. By the time she leaves prison, she will have no home to return to and a grim financial future.

Pugh’s attorneys maintain that the “irreparable collateral consequences of her conviction” reflect the seriousness of her crime, and a sentence of one year and one day in prison “will adequately deter others from engaging in similar conduct.”

While her attorneys said U.S. Sentencing Guidelines should be taken into account, they also said those guidelines should be “advisory.”

“Simply locking her up for a period of time prescribed by the Sentencing Guidelines would not promote the overall goals of federal sentencing,” they wrote. “In fact, such a sentence would [redacted] and further hinder her ability to rebuild her life and to once again meaningfully contribute to society.”

The sentencing memorandum from Pugh’s attorneys included a section titled “The Psychological Impact of this Case on Ms. Pugh.” That section was redacted in almost its entirety.

Marcus Dieterle


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2 COMMENTS

  1. If her attorneys are worried about her finances, upon leaving prison, she can always wash windows at intersections around town.

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