After Marilyn Mosby’s side businesses were first disclosed by The Brew in 2020, she described them, in a statement to this website and later to others, as having a specific targeted customer and purpose:
“To help underserved black families who don’t usually have the opportunity to travel outside of urban cities, so they can vacation at various destinations throughout the world at discount prices,” Mosby, then Baltimore state’s attorney, wrote.
Mosby issued the same statement to Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, requesting that Cumming investigate “reckless media reports” about her businesses and out-of-town travel and (in the words of her former attorneys, Andrew Jay Graham and David Shuster) report back to the public “that your investigation has concluded she did nothing inappropriate.”
But on the opening day of Mosby’s trial on federal perjury charges – with Mahogany Elite Enterprises LLC and two affiliated LLCs front and center – the entities are getting a completely different description:
They are “a business for professional women of color to go on retreats at various destination,” one of her lawyers, Maggie Grace, said in court yesterday.
Inspired during “a transformative trip” that Mosby took with a friend to Jamaica in 2019, the LLCs were meant to help professional women “escape the demands of their jobs and lives, and to empower and support themselves,” Grace said in her yesterday.
The “Invest in me” Jamaica trip for women that Mosby hosted last month as CEO of Mahogany Elite seems to align with that concept. It describes the four-day trip’s purpose as a “women’s spirituality retreat” at the Cliff Hotel Negrill.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, describe the Mahogany Elite companies very differently.
Whatever their purported business model, the companies existed in name only, said assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Delaney.
They were used illegally in 2020 to claim “adverse financial consequences” from the Covid pandemic, allowing Mosby to withdraw money early from her retirement account that she used to buy two Florida properties.
In a further opening day surprise, the prosecution added a new characterization to her businesses – namely, that Mahogany Elite was a tax dodge.
Running through the $5,000 in Mahogany Elite travel expenses that Mosby claimed on her 2019 federal income tax filing, an expert witness for the prosecution compared the expenses to Mosby’s credit card and bank records.
The analysis found that airplane tickets and meals were double-counted on trips that Mosby took to Atlanta, Cancun, Boston and elsewhere.
Some were expenses that appeared to be for government business, including one that was booked by an office staffer. But the 2019 Cancun charges appeared to be for personal travel.
“Who else went on the trip to Cancun?” Delaney asked FBI forensic accountant Jenna Bender.
“Nick Mosby,” Bender answered, referring to Mosby’s husband, then a state delegate from West Baltimore and now president of the City Council.
After listening to Bender’s lengthy testimony about Mosby’s travel expense claims, her legal team objected, calling it “prejudicial’ and vowing to file a formal objection to allegations that insinuated tax fraud.
Addressing Judge Lydia K. Griggsby, Delaney replied that the “damning” testimony was “very relevant” to the nature of the businesses Mosby created.
It was one of the more fiery moments of the high-profile trial, thrice delayed, for the city’s onetime top prosecutor – a polarizing personality and one half, with husband Nick, of a self-described Baltimore “power couple.”
Mosby is charged with two counts of perjury for allegedly lying on the forms she had to fill out to make two withdrawals from her city 457-B retirement account in order to get $90,000 she used to buy an eight-bedroom house near Disney World and a Gulf Coast condominium.
In that time, she got a raise from $238,000 to almost $248,000.
She’s also alleged to have made false statements on mortgage applications, but those charges are being tried separately. (As part of another defense motion Griggsby granted, the two sets of charges are being heard in the federal court in Greenbelt, 30 miles south of Baltimore.)
As reporters and a contingent of supporters listened, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Delaney commenced yesterday by calling the case a story “about a lawyer and a public servant who placed her own selfish interests in front of the truth.”
“Mahogany Elite had no clients, it made no revenue,” Delaney declared. “We expect to show that Mahogany Elite Enterprises did no business whatsoever.”
“She was not motivated by greed. What she did is not criminal” – Maggie Grace, attorney for Marilyn Mosby.
Delaney read from the July 2020 letter Mosby sent about Mahogany Elite (“on State’s Attorney’s Office letterhead”) to Inspector General Cumming when the story first broke:
“As I told the Baltimore Brew,” Mosby wrote, “have not taken on a single client for these companies, nor have I taken in any money.”
Grace, meanwhile, characterized her 43-year-old client as creating the companies in a search for “long-term financial security.”
“She was not motivated by greed,” said Grace. “What she did is not criminal.”
Calling the rules for the retirement program Mosby withdrew money from” vague,” the defense assailed the form Mosby filled out under penalty of perjury to get the money.
“The form did not define adverse financial consequences; the form did not say you have to suffer a certain amount of adverse financial consequences,” Grace said.
“Ms. Mosby did the best she could. She reviewed it, she determined she qualified, and she submitted the form.”
Grace said Mosby intended to maintain her travel consulting business while in office and wouldn’t let it impinge on her work as the city’s top prosecutor (“We all make time for things we love to do”) but the coronavirus got in the way.
“The global pandemic devastated that business,” Grace told the jury.
“Trying to close on a house”
Meanwhile, the prosecution portrayed Mosby’s motivations as less about providing a travel or retreat business and more about real estate speculation.
“The evidence will show the defendant saw an opportunity. She wanted to purchase real estate,” Delaney said, describing Mosby’s efforts, which ultimately fell through, to purchases investment properties in Locust Point and Upper Fells.
“I’m hoping to capitalize on the uncertainty of the market right now,” Mosby said in an April 2020 text to a Baltimore-area real estate agent.
In addition to text messages, yesterday’s prosecution included audio recordings of Mosby speaking on the phone with a representative of Nationwide, the company that administered her city retirement account.
“I’m trying to close on a house,” Mosby said, asking the employee to find out “what I would qualify for” and whether she might be eligible for any withdrawal based on coronavirus relief.
The trial continues today at U.S. Distric tCourt in Greenbelt.