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Federal Prosecutors Recommend Hard Time For Ex-Baltimore Mayor, Reveal New Details On Children’s Book Scandal

By  James Barrett
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh marches in the Mayor's Annual Christmas parade in Hampden, Baltimore, MD, December 3, 2017. Baltimore recently topped 300 murders and Pugh faces other problems of poverty and drugs. (Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)
Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is facing up to five years in prison over her infamous “Healthy Holly” children’s book scandal, over which she resigned last May and pleaded guilty in November.

Pugh was elected mayor of Baltimore in 2016 but quickly came under increased scrutiny over multiple deals involving her children’s book, for which her nonprofit received hundreds of thousands of dollars from various city and state contractors and by which prosecutors say she benefited not only financially but also politically. In November, Pugh pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and tax evasion; while the terms of the agreement were not revealed, her sentencing was scheduled for late February.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Thursday, federal prosecutors laid out their case against Pugh, who they accuse of being a “scammer” guilty of a multiple years of fraud, tax evasion, cover-ups and “brazen lies to the public” in order to personally profit — and all in the name of “children’s health.”

“The blistering, 37-page sentencing memorandum, accompanied by financial records and copies of checks, for the first time pinpointed the number of ‘Healthy Holly’ children’s books Pugh sold — and re-sold,” The Baltimore Sun reports. “It outlined her efforts to conceal her dealings, including lying to FBI agents who came to her house to seize her cellphone.”

The memorandum, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Martin J. Clarke and Leo J. Wise, presents the case for severe sentencing for Pugh as a result of her “deliberate” pursuit of financial and political gain. “The chronology of events since 2011, comprising Pugh’s seven-year scheme to defraud, multiple years of tax evasion, election fraud, and attempted cover-ups, including brazen lies to the public, clearly establishes the deliberateness with which she pursued financial and political gain without a second thought about how it was harming the public’s trust,” reads the memorandum, as highlighted by the Baltimore Sun.

Her actions reveal “a recurring pattern of well-executed steps that built on each other, becoming more audacious and complex leading up to the mayoral election,” Clarke and Wise charge.

As highlighted by The Baltimore Sun, the prosecutors say that Pugh orchestrated a “three-dimensional” scheme in which she managed to “resell 132,116 copies for a total of $859,960.” Prosecutors say that about 94% of the book sales, around $805,000, came from “corporate book purchasers with an interest in obtaining or maintaining a government contract.” The memo also presents more details about the roles of a city comptroller and a key city contractor that could spark further inquiries.

Among the accusations is Pugh’s failure to disclose book deals worth hundreds of thousands to the Senate before becoming mayor, among them her $500,000 deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, for which she served on its volunteer board. (Read the sentencing memo here.)

Amid mounting pressure after it was revealed that most of her “Healthy Holly” books were never distributed to the children they were supposed to help — instead being stored in a Baltimore City Public School System warehouse and Pugh’s homes and offices — Pugh publicly apologized in March.

“I sincerely want to say that I apologize that I have done something to upset the people of Baltimore,” she said. “I never intended to do anything that could not stand up to scrutiny.”

Months after going on paid administrative leave, and after every member of the Baltimore City Counsel called for her resignation, Pugh finally resigned in May.

Related: WATCH: Trump Critics Presented With ‘Racist’ Comments About Baltimore, Then Learn Who Actually Said Them

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