Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is embroiled in a scandal which reached its most dramatic day yet on Thursday. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service agents stormed two Baltimore homes Pugh owns, in addition to her office in the City Council building, the home of her recently terminated aide, Gary Brown, Jr., her lawyer’s office, and several other locations.
Pugh’s current woes began in March when it was discovered that she had received large payments for “Healthy Holly” children’s books she had written. Payments came from the heavily state-funded University of Maryland Medical Systems (UMMS), Associated Black Charities, and Kaiser Permanente. Pugh had been on the board of UMMS at the time of the $500,000 book order and was to be a deciding voter on a potentially lucrative government contract for Permanente.
The Thursday raid came as a surprise to many in Pugh’s camp, who claimed they found out about it from the news. After some speculation early in the day that Pugh had left town ahead of the multi-location raid, she was located in one of her homes. Her attorney stated that she was quite ill with pneumonia and bronchitis, and was not lucid enough to make any comment. He also noted that she was quite saddened by the events of the day. Since early April Pugh has been on a leave of absence she has attributed to pneumonia.
In early April, several city and state officials publicly asked Pugh to step down from her post as mayor, with even stronger calls for her resignation coming yesterday. Gov. Larry Hogan stopped short of calling for Pugh’s resignation earlier in the month, instead expressing concern for the financial implications and ordering an investigation. However, after yesterday’s raid, he officially requested that she step aside from her mayoral duties, stating, “Mayor Pugh has lost the public trust. She is clearly not fit to lead.”
It seems that in addition to the loss of public trust, a large portion of the “Healthy Holly” books purchased through suspicious channels seem to be lost. According to a report from The Baltimore Sun, the only press claiming to have printed Pugh’s books, Kromar Printing, LTD., claims to have printed 63,210. The orders from the multiple businesses and charities dating back to 2011 total up to nearly 93,000 books.
Meanwhile, many of the schools and libraries in Baltimore that expected books over the past several years say they have yet to receive them, while many more claim to have seen only a few. Pugh’s book LLC received close to $800,000 in payments beginning in 2011.
This is the most serious, but hardly the first scandal to involve Pugh. During her campaign for mayor in 2016, her now-fired aide Brown featured heavily as a suspicious name attached to large campaign donations. In fact, Brown was indicted by a federal grand jury for exceeding the maximum donation amount of $6,000 by donating through the names of various family members. Brown had been a long-time aide during Pugh’s time as a state senator and was often described as being “like a son” to Pugh.
An investigation into publicly available reports of donations made to Pugh’s 2016 mayoral race revealed several irregularities. Twenty-four different LLCs made the maximum $6,000 contribution. An investigation conducted by Baltimore City Paper revealed that several of those LLCs did not match the address reported by the campaign and several didn’t exist at all. Most donors with irregularities were tied to a local businesswoman, Gia Blatterman.
Several of the suspicious maximum donations were attributed to various residents and businesses located at a single address on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore. That mid-century, narrow rowhouse is owned by European Upscale Redevelopment Organization, LLC. The resident agent is Gia Blatterman’s son, Eric Blatterman. Eric also donated $6,000 to Pugh’s campaign under the name “Eric Blaise.”
The trail of evidence doesn’t lie. Pugh has held the wool over the eyes of the people who supported her for far too long. Hopefully, the next leader of Charm City will be able to restore some semblance of trust between the people and their public officials.