Embattled Baltimore Mayor Resigns Amid Federal Probe

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh addresses the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston on June 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

BALTIMORE (CN) – Keeping out of the public eye in the face of a state and federal probe of her personal and campaign finances, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned from office Thursday in a statement through her lawyer.

“I am sorry for the harm I have caused,” Pugh said in the statement, which criminal defense attorney Steve Silverman read this afternoon at press conference in his office. 

The resignation of the 69-year-old Democrat takes effect immediately, leaving the job in the hands of City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who had been serving as interim mayor since early April.

Claiming to have pneumonia, Pugh took a leave of absence last month following multiple stories in the Baltimore Sun that detailed her sale of self-published children’s books to institutions over which she exercised influence as a board member or state senator. Pugh hid those payments, totaling nearly $1 million, but defiantly claimed they were above board. “I don’t know what witch hunt y’all are on, but it’s done,” the mayor told one reporter. “I’ve got 1099s and I pay my taxes and everything is filed.” 

Criminal defense attorney Steve Silverman announces the resignation Thursday of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. (Photo by EDWARD ERICSON JR./Courthouse News Service)

On April 25 FBI and IRS agents served search warrants on Pugh’s two city homes, her city hall office, her lawyer’s office, the office of a nonprofit with which she is closely associated, and the home of a key aide who was previously convicted for making an illegal campaign contribution to Pugh by funneling it through multiple relatives. 

Elected in 2016 with 57 percent of the vote, Pugh’s campaign-finance records were riddled with the maximum-allowed donations of $6,000 — supposedly given by corporations that did not exist or by people with modest means who were associated with a local political fixer and salon owner. 

Pugh’s campaign later claimed that many of those checks “bounced,”  but refused to show any documentation. In one case, Pugh was given a check from a hairdresser who was facing criminal theft charges at the time. 

Pugh joined the Baltimore City Council in 1999, following a stint as editor of the Sun and part-owner of a TV station. A former public relations professional, Pugh served six years on the council before being appointed to an open seat in the Maryland Legislature. She won a seat on the state Senate in 2006 and rose to majority leader, serving on the finance committee until winning the 2016 mayoral race. Pugh’s aide Gary Brown was chosen to take over an open state delegate seat in the ensuing legislative shuffle, but that move that was scuttled when he pleaded guilty to state charges. 

With Brown sentenced to probation, Pugh kept him on staff, and little seemed to some of the campaign-finance scandal until the Sun broke the story on sales of her “Healthy Holly” book series.

The city council served an unprecedented open letter calling for Pugh’s resignation on April 8, less than a week after Pugh announced her paid leave of absence. Unable to do anything to dislodge her, the council’s effective vote of “no confidence” presaged a flurry of bills and proposed charter amendments that would increase the council’s power.

Baltimore’s murder rate meantime has hovered near all-time highs.  Amid a falling population, administrative chaos and instability, for four years the city has seen more than 50 homicides per 100,000 people, about 20 times the national average. A scandal in the police department resulted in seven cops convicted on racketeering charges, and the police chief was sentenced in March to 10 months for tax fraud. 

After announcing Pugh’s resignation today, attorney Silverman did not take questions. His aide handed out Pugh’s resignation letter. “I am confident that I have left the city in capable hands for the duration of the term to which I was elected,” it states.

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