Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said today that, like all of the city’s public officials, he is “heartbroken and disappointed” by the 11 federal charges brought today against former Mayor Catherine Pugh.
Federal prosecutors charged Pugh with wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion related to the sale of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books.
The feds allege she used the profits to finance her political campaigns and purchase a new home, and that she took copies of books she donated to city schools and re-sold them to other organizations or, in some cases, did not fulfill orders at all after receiving payment.
“I pray for former Mayor Pugh and I’m focused on helping our city to heal,” said Young, who took over for Pugh in an ex officio capacity after she took a leave of absence in April and officially following her resignation in May.
Asked about restoring the public’s faith in local government, Young pointed to the city council’s strengthening of financial disclosure laws that require disclosure of board memberships, and said the city “will continue to look at ways we can have more ethic[s] reform.”
As 3rd District Councilman Ryan Dorsey pointed out on Twitter, the Judiciary Committee is scheduled next week to hold a hearing on a bill that would require elected officials who own businesses to disclose their clients.
An elected official since 1996, Young said he had “no inklings” of Pugh’s books sales and only got to know one of the alleged perpetrators of the scheme, political aide Gary Brown Jr., when he started at City Hall after Pugh won the 2016 general election to become mayor.
Young said investigators did not work with his office in the lead-up to the indictments.
When asked if the news made him angry, Young said it did, the same way murders and people not coming forward with information about the killers does.
“Anything that puts a black eye on the city makes us all angry,” he said.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who appeared at the mayor’s weekly press conference alongside Young, said it’s a “sad day for Baltimore.”
“We are here now to move the city forward, and that’s what we are focused on every single day,” said Harrison, who was tapped by Pugh to lead the Baltimore Police Department earlier this year.
On Twitter, City Council President Brandon Scott posted this message for anyone contemplating public office: “You don’t get into public service to become rich. You do it to help people.”
He also pledged to continue working on the council’s efforts to reduce crime and further clean up city government.
City Councilman Bill Henry (4th District) said in a statement the council will rebuild faith through the reform legislation and a package of charter amendments that would, among other things, make it easier for members to oust a sitting mayor and override a mayoral veto.
“I’m confident that the charter amendments and ethics reform legislation introduced by my colleagues and I will help us build a brighter future for Baltimore and I look forward to a robust public conversation on these measure, sooner rather than later.”
Young and Scott are both running for mayor in the 2020 election. Several other candidates weighed in as well. Former federal prosecutor and Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah released a statement calling for greater accountability.
“This will be a hard day for Baltimore,” he said. “We need this to be the final line of a chapter in Baltimore history, too often defined by public corruption and criminal indictments. The next chapter is ours to write, and it must be a story of unprecedented transparency and accountability.”
Former Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith also chimed in, saying the indictment is “an embarrassment for the city of Baltimore” and a distraction from important problems the city faces.
“This, hopefully, is the beginning of closure in a sad chapter in Baltimore’s history,” he said. “I am confident that better days lie ahead for Baltimore. We deserve ethical leadership who we can trust and is above reproach.”
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