Mayor Catherine E. Pugh PRIDE MONTH Contingent by Elvert Barnes, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/Original

 

A little earlier today the Baltimore Sun broke a major story on financial improprieties by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

As a lot of political scandals do, this one started out slow and mundane and turned into a tsunami of corruption.

This is the set up: Last week, the Baltimore Sun reported that Pugh had sold books to an organization of which she was a board member.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh defended her self-published children’s book series in a lengthy statement that came a week after it was revealed she had a lucrative business deal with a hospital system whose board she served on for nearly two decades.

Pugh came under fire after The Baltimore Sun reported she failed to fully disclose a longstanding deal with the University of Maryland Medical System, where she served as a board member since 2001 until resigning Monday. Pugh self-published a series of children’s books titled “Healthy Holly,” and the hospital network purchased 100,000 of the books between 2011 and 2018 in deals totaling $500,000.

In her statement, Pugh noted she has been publishing books since 1979 and writing for 25 years.

“I started working on the Healthy Holly concept more than a decade ago after attending a conference on childhood health and obesity, and, for several years, I put a great deal of time and my own money into developing it,” the statement said. “It was a project that I was passionate about, and I was excited for the opportunity to expand its reach. I recall passing the time by thumbing through the first book before [a] UMMS meeting. One my colleagues loved it and thought it would help advance children’s health.”

Politicians selling large numbers of books to organizations is not unusual. What brought down House Speaker Jim Wright was selling large numbers of his memoirs to groups which were paying him to speak as a way of padding the old bank account while avoiding scrutiny of where his money was coming from. Pugh selling her books to the University of Maryland Medical System looked like a way the organization could pay Pugh a lot of extra money (no one was ever harmed in Baltimore by renting the mayor) while hiding the source of it. The official line here was that Pugh sold the books to UMMS and UMMS gave the books to the Baltimore school system–inflicting even more damage on a dilapidated and tottering institution.

Today the feces really smacked the windshield.

The Baltimore Sun did more digging and discovered that there were more bulk purchasers than UMMS.

Health provider Kaiser Permanente paid Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh more than $100,000 to buy about 20,000 copies of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books during a period when the company was seeking a lucrative contract to provide health benefits to city employees.

Kaiser confirmed Monday to The Baltimore Sun that it paid approximately $114,000 for the books in multiple orders from 2015 to 2018.

Pugh, a Democrat, became mayor in December 2016. In September 2017, the city’s spending board, which Pugh sits on and controls, awarded the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. a $48 million contract to provide health insurance to city employees from 2018 through 2020, with options to renew. Pugh does not appear to have abstained from voting on the contract.

And there was more:

In addition to Kaiser’s spending on Pugh’s books, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield confirmed that it gave Associated Black Charities $14,500 to pay for 2,000 “Healthy Holly” books in 2011 and 2014. CareFirst also provides health care to city government workers, having won a $522 million contract at the same time Kaiser won its contract in 2017.

Neither Pugh nor Steven D. Silverman, her attorney, responded to requests for comment Monday.

Today, Pugh took a leave of absence. It is hard to see how she survives this. The corruption of voting in favor of lucrative contracts being awarded to companies who are paying you under the table might be a bit much for even a Baltimore grand jury to accept.