Catherine Pugh missing as FBI, IRS raid Baltimore office, home
Thursday was a red-letter day for Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
Federal agents raided her homes and offices, Maryland’s governor called for her resignation “for the good of the city” and speculation swirled about her whereabouts, as she presumably is still recovering from a bout of pneumonia.
The escalating drama played out in Baltimore amid a backdrop of political isolation for the embattled first-term mayor, whose sales of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books to a medical system she oversaw and to firms seeking contracts in the city are being investigated by federal and state authorities. Fellow Democrats have referred to her business venture, which brought her hundreds of thousands of dollars, as “self-dealing” and the ongoing scandal “an embarrassment.”
Early Thursday, FBI and IRS agents conducted coordinated raids of both of Ms. Pugh’s homes in the city, her offices at City Hall and at a nonprofit group she once led, as well as the home of one of her aides. Officials did not disclose what they were looking for in the early morning searches, which included the offices of Ms. Pugh’s lawyer, Steve Silverman, and the nonprofit Maryland Center for Adult Training.
Local and national media TV outlets splashed images every hour of federal agents fanning out among the various locations, cordoning off locations with yellow police tape and commandeering boxes of evidence.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had been silent about Ms. Pugh’s future, even as he directed the state prosecutor to investigate her book deals earlier this month. The Republican governor broke his silence Thursday.
“Now more than ever, Baltimore City needs strong and responsible leadership,” Mr. Hogan said in a written statement. “Mayor Pugh has lost the public trust. She is clearly not fit to lead. For the good of the city, Mayor Pugh must resign.”
Baltimore City Council member Brandon Scott added to the calls for her to depart, calling the raids “an embarrassment to the city.”
Since April 1, Ms. Pugh has been on a self-imposed, paid leave of absence “to recover from pneumonia.” She has denied any wrongdoing related to her financial dealings, and legal analysts noted that Thursday’s raids did not mean Ms. Pugh has been charged with any crimes.
But her absence has fed questions and rumors about her location. News anchor Rick Ritter for Baltimore’s CBS-TV affiliate WJZ said on Twitter that she had fled the state.
Pugh spokesman James Bentley told The Washington Times on Thursday that he did not know where Ms. Pugh was and would not comment “on speculation about the mayor’s whereabouts.”
Meanwhile, the Mayor’s Office of Public Affairs did not respond to phone calls or emails. A quick survey of its news websites revealed that no updates had been posted since April 1.
In a statement, Ms. Pugh’s attorney, Mr. Silverman, pushed back on the idea his office had been “raided” and said federal agents served a subpoena to collect her original financial records related to her children’s book work.
“We will continue to defend the Mayor, who is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” Mr. Silverman said.
His office told The Times they had no further comments to offer.
Ms. Pugh’s legal troubles have been mounting for weeks.
The federal case, which broke into the open on Thursday, is competing with a criminal investigation launched by the state prosecutor’s office, in addition to inquiries by a city ethics board, the state insurance commission and the Baltimore inspector general, according to the Baltimore Sun.
On April 1 Mr. Hogan ordered the state prosecutor to investigate sales of the “Healthy Holly” books, which promote healthy children’s eating and exercise. The books were to be distributed to schools in the city.
Days before announcing her leave of absence, Ms. Pugh held a hastily organized press conference where she called her no-contract book deals a well-intentioned but “regrettable mistake.”
Others have been less charitable about the murky arrangements that earned $800,000 for her book’s limited liability company. Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot called her book deals “brazen, cartoonish corruption.”
According to The Associated Press, Ms. Pugh for years had negotiated lucrative deals to sell the books to customers that included the hospital network she once helped oversee and a major health plan that does business with the city.
She sold $500,000 worth of the illustrated paperbacks to the University of Maryland Medical System, on whose board she sat for nearly 20 years. She also made $300,000 in bulk sales to other customers including two major health carriers that did business with the city.
Earlier this month all City Council members except Jack Young, who now is serving as acting mayor, wrote a two-sentence statement urging Ms. Pugh to resign. Several of her aides remain on paid leave, including her chief of staff, according to reports.
Baltimore’s City Hall has been raided by investigators before. State prosecutors and police searched the home of then-mayor Sheila Dixon in 2008, who was later convicted of federal charges.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.