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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen5:14 pmNov 21, 20190

Are you guilty? The plea was “yes,” but Catherine Pugh’s gestures said “no”

Baltimore’s former mayor pleads guilty to four counts of conspiracy and tax evasion, but seemed to bristle as the facts of the case are read in federal court

Above: Catherine Pugh on the way out of the federal courthouse in Baltimore after pleading guilty to charges that could bring her a five-year sentence. (J.M. Giordano)

How was she feeling today, the judge asked. Catherine E. Pugh’s one-word response was “anxious.”

Another possible sentiment was non-verbal and, seemingly, in contradiction to her plea of guilty to four corruption charges against her:

Listening to federal prosecutors recite the facts behind each charge, Pugh shook her head from side to side at least 10 times as if in disagreement.

Yet each time U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow asked Pugh if she agreed that the facts as recited – accounts of faking documents, lying to people and cheating on federal income taxes to enrich herself and help her political campaign – were true, Pugh answered:

“I do.”

Chasanow asked repeatedly if she was willingly pleading guilty. And each time, Pugh replied in a low voice, “Yes.”

Other than these brief answers, Baltimore’s former mayor – who resigned last May after FBI agents raided her home and City Hall offices – sat quietly in a downtown courtroom this afternoon.

Never removing her black winter coat, she appeared to listen intently as the terms of the deal her lawyers worked out with the U.S. Attorney’s Office were made clear.

Sentencing in February

Pugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion, all stemming from what the government described as a criminal enterprise designed to profit from the sale of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books.

Under the terms of the plea, Pugh did not acknowledge guilt in seven counts of wire fraud that were part of the indictment that U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur announced yesterday.

Her convictions could theoretically bring her decades in prison, but the sentencing guidelines agreed to by both parties would allow Pugh to come away with something more like five years, Hur told reporters afterwards.

But he noted that Chasanow has wide latitude to impose whatever punishment she deems appropriate at a sentencing hearing scheduled for February 27, 2020.

Pugh’s “sophisticated” scheme, outlined in court today, shows that she “betrayed the trust placed in her by the public,” Hur said.

Pugh leaves the Pre-trial Services division at the federal courthouse in Baltimore after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges. (J.M. Giordano)

Pugh leaves the pre-trial services division at the federal courthouse in Baltimore after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion charges. (J.M. Giordano)

Passport Surrendered

The 69-year-old Pugh dabbed at her eyes with a tissue but declined to speak to reporters as she exited the courtroom, flanked by three lawyers.

Just before the elevator door closed, she collapsed into the arms of one of one of them, Steven D. Silverman, as her shoulders shook.

Asked standard questions by Chasanow – such as, had she ever been treated for drug or alcohol addiction or depression, had she over the course of the last day drunk alcohol – Pugh answered “no” each time.

She was asked to surrender her passport and warned not to leave the continental United States.

Pugh was released on her own recognizance and told to report to pre-trial services before leaving the courthouse.

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh leaves federal court, after pleading guilty to corruption charges. (J.M. Giordano)

Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh leaves federal court, after pleading guilty to corruption charges. (J.M. Giordano)

Chasanow gave her a number of restrictions related to her release, including a warning to avoid all contact with parties named in her case and not to make statements contradicting her guilty plea.

The former mayor also must provide an inventory of assets and pay what she owes to the IRS.

Prosecutors say they plan to seize $769,688 of profits from Pugh’s fraudulent book sales as well as her current home in Ashburton, which they say was purchased and renovated with Healthy Holly funds.

The two sides have not yet reached an agreement on specifically what assets Pugh will have to forfeit.

In a statement released to the media, Silverman said Pugh “apologizes to all of those that she let down, most especially the citizens of Baltimore.”

He said she “decided to forgo a long trial” that would “drain essential government resources and cause further distraction from the serious issues our region faces.”

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