Baltimore, MD – The mayor of Baltimore has taken an indefinite leave of absence for her health amidst calls for her resignation over shady dealings related to a children’s book that she wrote and sold to a significant number of entities over which she had influence.
Republican Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has asked that state prosecutor to investigate allegations that Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh abused her position to sell bulk quantities of her book “Healthy Holly” to organizations that wanted her support on legislation and contracts, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Pugh’s office issued a statement on Monday that said the mayor was taking a leave of absence to recover from a nasty case of pneumonia that resulted in her being hospitalized for five days, but many critics have questioned the timing of the announcement.
She is facing backlash for abusing her power and multiple calls for her resignation from elected officials in Maryland, The Baltimore Sun reported.
On Thursday, Pugh apologized for a book deal she made with the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) while she was a member of its board of directors.
She revealed that although the system paid her $500,000 for 100,000 books in five separate installments in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018, the 2017 order of books just started shipping out now that the scandal became public, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Pugh resigned from UMMS’s board last month, along with two other members, and UMMS CEO Robert Chrencik and four others were placed on leave after The Baltimore Sun reported on deals made between board members and the UMMS totaling tens of millions of dollars.
“I am deeply sorry for any lack of confidence or disappointment that this initiative may have caused among Baltimore city residents, friends and colleagues,” Pugh said.
The mayor of Baltimore was also paid almost $114,000 by Kaiser Permanente for “Healthy Holly” books while Kaiser was seeking the contract to provide health benefits to Baltimore City employees, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Democratic State Comptroller Peter Franchot was the first state elected official to call for Pugh’s resignation.
“The Mayor has to resign - now. The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also to deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive,” Franchot wrote on his Facebook page on Monday.
Members of the city council have also called for the mayor’s resignation.
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen pointed out that Pugh could have recused herself from voting on Kaiser Permanente’s contract with the city, but she didn’t.
“I wish Mayor Pugh a speedy recovery as she takes a leave of absence due to her illness,” Cohen tweeted on Monday evening. “However, I believe she should fully resign from office. Mayor Pugh has lost the moral mandate to govern and the public’s trust. Baltimore deserves better.”
At the press conference on Monday, during which she announced her leave of absence, Pugh produced paperwork showing that the first batch of 20,020 books were delivered to the Baltimore City school system on behalf of UMMS in June of 2011, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Another 18,600 books were delivered in March of 2013 and an additional 19,500 books were delivered in 2015, according to the records the mayor showed at the press conference.
More than 5,000 copies from those printed batches were sent to Pugh at her home or campaign office, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Pugh said she had no deadline for delivery for the 2017 and 2018 orders, but said the 2017 books were en route.
However, despite her assurances, the mayor’s publisher told The Baltimore Sun that it had only printed three runs of 20,000 copies of the book.
Joseph Cohen, vice president of Kromar Printing Ltd. in Winnipeg, Canada, where Pugh’s books were printed, said the company had not been asked to print a fourth batch of the books.
Cohen said Pugh paid about $13,000 for each run of 20,000 books that she sold to UMMS for $100,000, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Interestingly, the mayor had no actual written contract with UMMS for the book sales, The Baltimore Sun reported.
She produced a 2011 letter that said UMMS was donating 20,000 copies of her book, to be delivered in two 10,000 book installments, to city schools as part of their “community outreach” efforts.
“In hindsight, this arrangement with the University of Maryland Medical System was a regrettable mistake,” Pugh told reporters.
Baltimore City school officials have said they remember one shipment of “Healthy Holly” books being delivered between 2011 and 2013.
Anne Fullerton, spokeswoman for Baltimore City schools, told The Baltimore Sun that the school system “has not located documentation of receipt of books.”
“The shipping manifests provided today by Mayor Pugh had not been shared with us previously,” Fullerton said. “We will review this new paperwork to determine if it may allow tracing shipments beyond the one [shipment] staff members recall receiving.”
City school officials have repeatedly said they never requested Pugh’s book and revealed that nearly 9,000 copies are sitting in storage, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Further aggravating the situation is the fact that the mayor was a member of the State Senate when she made the first deal with UMMS, but she failed to disclose her book earnings on her annual General Assembly disclosure forms.
At the time, she sat on the Senate Finance Committee which oversaw many issues related to UMMS, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Pugh has claimed her books were also distributed to schools and daycare centers, but public schools, private schools, and daycare organizations told The Baltimore Sun they never received any copies of “Healthy Holly.”
“I apologize that I’ve done something to upset the people, the people of Baltimore,” the mayor told reporters. “I do hope that we find out from the school system where the rest of the books are.”
Pugh has hired criminal defense attorney Steven D. Silverman to represent her in the debacle, The Baltimore Sun reported.
At the press conference on Monday, the mayor said her attorney had advised her that she could not take any questions.
Baltimore City Council President Jack Young will step in as mayor during Pugh's leave of absence, The Baltimore Sun reported.