Baltimore mayor taking leave of absence amid book scandal

Baltimore mayor taking leave of absence amid book scandal

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Catherine Pugh, who was in her third year of office as Baltimore's mayor, resigned Thursday after pressure from local and state officials. (Mayor Catherine Pugh/Twitter)

BALTIMORE – Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is taking a leave of absence Monday effective at midnight, City Solicitor Andre Davis confirmed, in the wake of a scandal revealing that she was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars from sales of her self-published books to organizations that do business with City Hall.

On Monday evening, hours after the announcement that she was stepping aside, the mayor released a statement saying that her doctors have advised her to take a leave of absence because she is still recovering from pneumonia, for which she was hospitalized last week for five days.

Pugh, a Democrat, resigned from her position on the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of director on March 18, shortly after it was revealed that she had not fully disclosed that UMMS had paid her a total of $500,000 from 2011-2018 in a no-bid contract for 100,000 copies of her children’s books. Two other board members have stepped down for also having deals with UMMS. The Baltimore Sun first reported that nearly a third of the 30 board members, including Pugh, had contracts with UMMS.

Pugh said UMMS distributed her self-published “Healthy Holly” series of children’s books to day care centers and public schools. But school officials acknowledged that the books never were used in coursework and that nearly 9,000 copies remained in storage in a warehouse, according to published reports.

UMMS is one of Maryland’s largest private employers and its University of Maryland Medical Center division is Baltimore’s largest private employer.

The mayor also was paid more than $100,000 payment for her books from Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest HMOs, as it was bidding to become an insurance option for city employees, as well as $100,000 from Associated Black Charities, a Baltimore-based umbrella group of nonprofit organizations. Kaiser Permanente confirmed Monday to the Baltimore Sun that it paid a total of about $114,000 for the books from 2015 to 2018. The Baltimore City Board of Estimates, which Pugh heads, ultimately awarded a $48 million contract to the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc. in September 2017.

Pugh, 69, a veteran politician in the city and state, beat her most formidable competitor in the primary election in 2016 in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, former Mayor Sheila Dixon. Dixon, Baltimore’s first female mayor, had resigned in 2010 — the day after she was sentenced in a plea deal for embezzlement. She admitted accepting several gift cards from city developers.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, another veteran city politician, will serve as mayor during Pugh’s absence.

On Friday, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was sentenced to 10 months in prison for tax fraud. The 30-year veteran of the corruption-plagued Baltimore Police Department resigned last May after only four months in the top post. Weeks earlier he had been charged with taking improper deductions and claiming excessive exemptions on his state and federal taxes, as well as failing to file his taxes for three years.

After De Sousa was charged, Pugh faced harsh criticism from other city officials and voters, who accused her of not properly vetting Baltimore’s 40th police commissioner.

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