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Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh Resigns In Aftermath Of Children's Book Scandal

Mayor Catherine Pugh offers background on her <em>Healthy Holly</em> book business during a City Hall news conference in March.
Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun
TNS via Getty Images
Mayor Catherine Pugh offers background on her Healthy Holly book business during a City Hall news conference in March.

After weeks of growing pleas for her to step down, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has resigned, her attorney said Thursday.

"I am sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor," she said in a letter read by her lawyer Steve Silverman.

"Baltimore deserves a mayor who can move our great city forward," the statement continued. Pugh, who has been suffering from health issues, did not appear at the news conference with her attorney.

In recent weeks, federal agents raided her two homes, her City Hall office and other locations. She has been on an indefinite paid leave of absence from her job as Baltimore's top elected official since April 1, citing health reasons.

Pugh, a Democrat, is under investigation for alleged "self-dealing" in connection to the sale of thousands of copies of a self-published children's book series. Many of those sales went to entities that she had influence over or that sought to do business with the city.

Maryland's Office of State Prosecutor and the city's ethics board have launched probes into whether any laws or ethics rules have been violated. At this time, no local, state, or federal authorities have charged her with any crime.

The mayor, who was elected in 2016, has been on leave to "recuperate from this serious illness," which her office said stemmed from a bout of pneumonia. She was hospitalized for five days in late March.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young has been serving as acting mayor since April 2. He has said that he does not want the position on a permanent basis.

Pugh's leave came as the book scandal was heading toward a full-blown crisis, one that she was unable to tamp down.

At issue is how Pugh handled the sales of the Healthy Hollybooks, about a young black girl who promotes the benefits of nutrition and exercise.

The Baltimore Sun reported she has received roughly $800,000 over the years from the sale of the books. Some of the biggest benefactors include the University of Maryland Medical System.

UMMS is a private nonprofit for which Pugh served as a board member until mid-March, when she resigned from the position. It paid Pugh roughly $500,000 for copies of the books spread out in five payments from 2012-2018, according to the Sun.

A separate payment by health giant Kaiser Permanente of more than $100,000 for some 20,000 copies of the book between 2015 and 2018 was also reported by the Sun.

The payouts for the books came at a time when the company was seeking to provide coverage to city employees. The city's spending panel, which Pugh sat on, eventually awarded the company a $48 million contract with the city in 2017.

Pugh had been defiant in resisting calls for her resignation. Her office sent out a statement a week into her leave saying that "she fully intends to resume the duties of her office."

But a turning point for the mayor came on April 26, when FBI and IRS agents were seen carrying off boxes of paperwork from early morning raids — a clear sign that mayor's actions had piqued the interest of federal authorities.

As NPR reported at the time, an IRS spokesperson confirmed to NPR that the raid had been carried out at Pugh's homes, City Hall office and the Maryland Center for Adult Training, where Pugh previously chaired the board.

The IRS official, however, would not say whether the raids were related to the book deals.

Hours after the raid, Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan issued a statement urging her resignation, saying, "Mayor Pugh has lost the public trust. She is clearly not fit to lead."

That same day, Pugh's legal team confirmed federal agents also visited their offices seeking "original financial records belonging to Mayor Catherine Pugh," attorney Silverman said in a statement.

As member station WYPR's Emily Sullivan reported, Pugh's lawyers told reporters that evening that she was "becoming lucid" but not yet well enough to decide whether to resign.

It appears she has convalesced enough to realize her support as the city's top leader has all but evaporated.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.