The disgraced former mayor of Baltimore pleaded guilty Thursday to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges in a case involving sales of her self-published children's books.
Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty in federal court in Baltimore to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the government and tax evasion. But she pleaded not guilty to wire fraud. The pleas came a day after an 11-count indictment was unsealed.
The case involves sales of her self-published "Healthy Holly" books to non-profits and foundations to promote her political career and fund her run for mayor. Pugh, a Democrat who was elected in 2016, resigned under pressure in May.
A federal grand jury indictment returned on Nov. 14 also charged two Pugh associates, Gary Brown, Jr., and Roslyn Wedington, who have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax fraud.
Pugh became Baltimore's second mayor in less than a decade to step down because of scandal. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon left office in 2010 as part of a plea deal for misappropriating about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families.
The charges against Pugh came as the city has struggled violent crime and other cases of public corruption, as well as a major police scandal. The city has had more than 300 homicides for five years in a row.
An 11-count federal indictment accused Pugh of arranging fraudulent sales of her books to schools, libraries and a medical system to enrich herself, promote her political career and fund her run for mayor.
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"There are many victims in this case," said U.S. Attorney Robert Hur in announcing the indictment. "The victims are all of us, the taxpayers and the people of Baltimore, who expect and deserve integrity from their public officials."
Federal authorities say Pugh and two city employees double-sold the books or failed to deliver them to institutions they were purchased for, including the Baltimore City Public Schools. Pugh then allegedly used the proceeds to fund straw donations to her mayoral campaign and to renovate a house.
Pugh's books included "Healthy Holly: Exercising is Fun" and "Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors like the Rainbow." Most were sold directly to nonprofits and foundations that did business — or attempted to do business — with the state or the city of Baltimore, according to the indictment.
Pugh, 69, had been in seclusion since early April.
Pugh had served in the state legislature since 2005. As a state senator, she sat on a committee that funded the University of Maryland Medical System, one of the state's largest private employers. She also sat on the hospital network's board sat starting in 2001, and until the scandal erupted in March, it was her biggest book customer.
The medical system paid Pugh $500,000 for 100,000 copies, but there was no contract, and the system described some of the purchases as "grants" in federal filings. She returned her most recent $100,000 payment and described the deal as a "regrettable mistake" before retreating from public view.