BALTIMORE, Md. (CN) — Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore's top prosecutor for eight years and half of one of the city's power couples, will finally face perjury charges next week in federal court in Greenbelt.
The case — rife with novel legal theories, charges of racism and political soap opera — is a stunning illustration of Baltimore's political and legal culture. Postponed three times, removed from a Baltimore courthouse, and split in two by U.S. District of Maryland Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby, it pits the former high-profile progressive prosecutor’s court-appointed defense lawyers against a U.S. Attorney’s Office that once sent the city’s mayor to prison for fraud.
Mosby was indicted in January 2022, accused of taking a loan from her own retirement funds under false pretenses by claiming that the Covid-19 pandemic caused her to suffer “adverse financial consequences.” In that time, she got a raise from $238,000 to almost $248,000.
Much of the wrangling over the charge centers on the meaning of hardship in the CARES Act, and who gets to decide what qualifies as “adverse financial consequences.”
She’s also accused of lying on mortgage documents for two Florida properties that those funds helped pay for—an eight-bedroom house near Disney World and a Gulf Coast condominium. The indictment says she falsely claimed the house was going to be her “residence” to get a better interest rate, while she had already signed a contract to make that place a short-term rental.
The indictment claims that to buy the other property, she then lied about a $5,000 “gift” payment from her now-estranged husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, who she sued for divorce in July. In both mortgage applications, she falsely claimed she did not owe back taxes to the IRS, while she and Mosby faced a $45,000 lien.
She bought the Kissimmee house for $545,000 and the condo in Longboat Key for $476,000, records show.
Elected state's attorney in 2014, Mosby made a name for herself by criminally prosecuting six city police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray while in custody, which sparked city-wide riots. None of the officers were convicted, but Mosby enjoyed a high profile as part of a new breed of progressive prosecutors working to change criminal justice policy.
She filed a mass coram nobis petition to vacate the convictions of thousands of people who had been found guilty of marijuana possession — a gambit that also quietly failed. Maryland legalized marijuana this year.
After cruising to reelection in 2018, Mosby stepped up her travel schedule even as the city’s murder rate remained near record levels.
The criminal case against Mosby has roots in a 2020 story published in the Baltimore Brew, a tiny news outlet that investigated her travel and business interests, revealing that she secretly established a trio of travel and legal consulting businesses called Mahogany Elite Travel, Mahogany Elite Consulting and Mahogany Elite Enterprises LLC.
The stories came a month after former Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty to perjury for failing to disclose a company that peddled children’s books to political players as a way to secretly enrich herself. Pugh was sentenced to three years in federal prison but served only half that after prosecutors quietly altered her plea agreement.
Mosby insisted that her companies were meant to remain dormant while she served as state’s attorney. Irritated by the negative coverage in the online-only publication, Mosby called on the city’s inspector general, Mercedes Cumming, to investigate and clear her. But Cumming found that Mosby did violate the city’s ethics ordinance by failing to disclose the new business on her forms. Cumming refused to back down when Mosby and her lawyers furiously protested her findings.
Federal prosecutors opened a case soon after, and in March 2021, The Brew broke the news that Mosby had bought the two Florida homes for more than $1 million.
The federal charges came nearly a year later. Mosby’s lead defense lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in February 2022, claiming it was timed to scuttle Mosby’s reelection prospects and suggesting the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise, was racist and that “the entire prosecutorial process was so thoroughly tainted by animus” that the case should be tossed.
It was not.
Mosby lost her bid for reelection in the 2022 spring primary. She left office in January of this year. Bolden continued to press a legal strategy of disparagement, claiming Mosby was being selectively prosecuted, that local media coverage had tainted the jury pool, and that the case was “bullshit.” After Griggsby threatened sanctions, he withdrew from the case, along with the rest of Mosby’s legal team.
The strategy may have paid dividends though: Judge Griggsby split the indictment into two cases: the perjury charge involving the retirement fund withdrawals, to be tried next week, and the mortgage fraud charges, to be tried at an unspecified later date.
David Plymyer, a former assistant state’s attorney and county attorney in Anne Arundel and longtime Mosby critic, says splitting the cases will likely make the prosecution’s work harder. “Almost that’s the reason,” he said in a phone interview. “In essence, she is saying it would be too easy to convict her” using the original indictment linking both alleged frauds.
Griggsby also granted a change of venue last month, moving the trial 30 miles south to Greenbelt. It’s unprecedented in a place that recently saw the mayor convicted, and once presided over the prosecution of Vice President Spiro Agnew. Neither the prosecution nor the defense was able to identify a case moved within the federal court district in Maryland throughout its 234-year history, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky said at that hearing.
In July, Mosby filed for divorce. Her court-appointed lawyer from the Office of the Public Defender, James Wyda, said they might call him as a witness in the mortgage fraud case.
Mosby is expected in court Monday for final motions hearings before jury selection begins, with opening arguments scheduled for Nov. 2.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.