Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday for her role in a children’s book deal scheme.
Pugh pleaded guilty in November to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges as part of an agreement with prosecutors that had requested a roughly five-year sentence for the 69-year-old. On top of the sentence, Pugh will serve three years of supervised release following her prison term and must pay in excess of $411,000 in penalties.
Before handing down the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow criticized submitted documents lauding Pugh’s previous achievements, saying “it was precisely that reputation for good work that allowed her to commit these offenses and continue the fraud for as long as she did,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
“It is astounding and I have yet frankly to hear any explanation that makes sense. This was not a tiny mistake, lapse of judgment. This became a very large fraud. The nature and circumstances of this offense clearly I think are extremely, extremely serious,” added Chasanow.
Pugh released a video on Wednesday in which she apologized for her role in the book scheme. “I messed up. I really messed up,” she said. “I accept total responsibility. I pled guilty and I’m sorry. I don’t know any other words that could be strong. I am so sorry.”
Prosecutors say Pugh, helped by aide Gary Brown Jr., double-sold the illustrated “Healthy Holly” children’s books and failed to deliver them to institutions they were purchased for, including the Baltimore City Public Schools. Pugh used the proceeds to fund straw donations to her mayoral campaign and buy a new house. She resigned under pressure in May.
The University of Maryland Medical System — one of the state’s largest employers — was Pugh’s biggest book customer. The system paid her a total of $500,000 for 100,000 copies that were meant to be distributed to schoolchildren, but about 60,000 of those books were sent to a city warehouse and a Pugh office where thousands were removed to give to other customers. Prosecutors say Pugh never delivered the other 40,000 books the health system purchased for city schools.
Pugh had previously served in the state Senate, where she sat on a committee that funded the medical system. She also sat on the hospital network’s board from 2001 until the scandal erupted in March. The former mayor returned the last $100,000 payment and described the deal as a “regrettable mistake” after the scheme was uncovered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.