Remember former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh, who resigned in May amidst an ever-growing scandal over how she personally enriched herself by having local organizations, including the University of Maryland Medical System, buy copies of her *checks notes* self-published Healthy Holly children’s books? Now, federal prosecutors have charged Pugh with eleven counts of fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy over her “corrupt” sale of Healthy Holly books to groups and businesses that, as the Justice Department noted, “did business or attempted to do business with the Maryland and Baltimore City governments.”
“Our elected officials must place the interests of the citizens above their own,” said United States Attorney Robert K. Hur in the Justice Department’s press release announcing the indictment. “Corrupt public employees rip off the taxpayers and undermine everyone’s faith in government.”
Pugh’s bonkers scheme was uncovered in a series of thorough articles by the Baltimore Sun, which uncovered, among other highly suspect details, that Pugh had struck a deal with the University of Maryland Medical System to have the hospital spend $500,000 to purchase an astounding 100,000 copies of Healthy Holly books during a time when she sat on the medical system’s board.
In April, as part of the federal investigation, FBI agents raided Pugh’s home, carrying out boxes filled, I assume, with unsold copies of Healthy Holly books. As the Baltimore Sun reported on Wednesday, federal prosecutors are now claiming that Pugh “defrauded area businesses and nonprofit organizations with nearly $800,000 in sales of her ‘Healthy Holly’ books to unlawfully enrich herself, promote her political career and illegally fund her campaign for mayor.” And it sure seems that two of Pugh’s close allies—her “longtime aide Gary Brown Jr. and Roslyn Wedington, the director of a nonprofit Pugh championed,” in the words of the Baltimore Sun—have squealed, as the DOJ revealed both have pled guilty to separate charges related to the investigation into Pugh.
Not only is Push seemingly a scammer, she’s not an especially good one. More, from the Baltimore Sun:
Though her customers ordered more than 100,000 copies of the books, the indictment says Pugh failed to print thousands of copies, double-sold others and took some to use for self-promotion. Pugh, 69, used the profits to buy a house, pay down debt, and make illegal straw donations to her campaign, prosecutors allege.
Turns out Pugh was also, according to prosecutors, engaged in some hefty tax evasion:
In 2016, for instance, when she was a state senator and ran for mayor, she told the Internal Revenue Service she had made just $31,000. In fact, her income was more than $322,000 that year ― meaning she shorted the federal government of about $100,000 in taxes, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
If convicted on all the charges, Pugh faces a potential sentence of 175 years in prison.
Amidst all of this, you may be asking yourself, but are the Healthy Holly books, which feature a young black girl named Holly and her family and attempt to teach children about the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet through statements like, “Welcome to my world where exercising is fun!!!” any good?
Here’s what one children’s book blogger had to say:
Melissa Taylor, who runs a popular blog focused on children’s literacy and has served as book editor-at-large for Colorado Parent Magazine, said Pugh’s books are “more pedantic than I generally like — or I think kids like.”
“Kids prefer stories with compelling characters, rich language, emotional appeal, and an entertaining story arc. I don’t see those elements in this particular book,” she wrote in an email. She also noticed editing mistakes, which she said are typical of self-published books.
If you’re curious to read a Healthy Holly book, you can buy a used copy of one on Amazon for $199.99.