Ex-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh indicted over shady book deal

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was hit with federal corruption charges Wednesday related to a shady children’s book deal that prompted her resignation.

Pugh is accused of improperly tapping into the nearly $800,000 in proceeds from her lucrative “Healthy Holly” book deal, including to buy and renovate a home in Baltimore, pay down personal debt and fund $35,800 in straw donations to her mayoral campaign.

She inked the deal with the University of Maryland Medical System to write a series of self-published children’s books while sitting on the group’s board of directors.

The books were sloppily printed —  and included misspellings of the main character’s name and the word “vegetable” as “vegetale,” according to the Baltimore Sun. They were distributed to the city’s schools, even though school officials never asked for them, leaving thousands sitting in a warehouse.

The 69-year-old Democrat, who became mayor of the beleaguered city in 2016, was indicted on 11 charges — conspiracy to commit wire fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the US and two counts of tax evasion, according to papers unsealed Wednesday.

She is expected to self-surrender to the US Marshals ahead of her scheduled appearance in Baltimore federal court Thursday, according to the Maryland US Attorney’s Office.

Pugh got a helping hand in her alleged scam from her longtime aide, Gary Brown Jr., 38, who copped a plea deal earlier this month, authorities revealed Wednesday.

Prosecutors alleged Brown and Pugh — a former Maryland state senator from 2007 to 2016 — conspired together to rip off those who purchased the “Healthy Holly” books. The pair’s alleged scheme involved accepting payments for the books but never delivering them and double-selling other copies.

FBI and IRS agents were seen raiding Pugh’s home in April, hauling out boxes of “Healthy Holly” books and other documents.

Brown was also accused of helping to funnel straw donations to Pugh’s campaign and using some of the money that was meant to repay the donations for his own legal defense — “at Pugh’s direction,” prosecutors said.

Pugh simultaneously evaded taxes on the proceeds she raked in from “Healthy Holly” books sales, according to the indictment. In 2016, she claimed she only made $31,020 — when in reality, her income was $322,365.

If convicted, Pugh faces serious time behind bars — each of the wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges carries up to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors are also seeking to seize $769,688 of her profits and her home in Ashburton, The Sun reported.

Meanwhile, Brown is also accused of conspiring to defraud the US with another city worker, Roslyn Wedington, 50, the director of a nonprofit training center for which Pugh served as board chairwoman, according to the Sun.

The two were charged with filing false tax returns. Wedington’s guilty plea to conspiracy to defraud the US and five counts of filing false tax returns was also unsealed on Wednesday.

Prosecutors declined to say to the Sun whether Brown and Wedington are cooperating.

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