By Lucia Suarez Sang
Published April 26, 2019
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who is facing increased calls for her immediate resignation, remains in poor health and is not “lucid” enough to decide whether to step down, her attorney told reporters late Thursday.
Steve Silverman, speaking outside one of Pugh’s residences which was raided by the FBI and IRS earlier in the day, said the embattled city leader could make a decision as early as next week.
“She is leaning toward making the best decision in the best interest in the citizens of Baltimore City,” he said, adding that Pugh has “several options” to consider.
“She just needs to be physically and mentally sound and lucid enough to make appropriate decisions.”
Silverman said Pugh met with a doctor at home Thursday and plans to do so again Friday, the Baltimore Sun reported.
In the latest image-tarnishing scandal for struggling Baltimore, the first-term Democratic mayor faces accusations that she used children’s book deals to cover up kickbacks for favorable treatment as a state lawmaker and city leader that earned her roughly $800,000 over several years.
As a state senator, 69-year-old Pugh sold $500,000 worth of her self-published “Healthy Holly” illustrated paperbacks to the University of Maryland Medical System, a major state employer whose board she sat on for nearly 20 years.
UMMS reportedly paid Pugh for 100,000 copies of her books between 2011 and 2018 with the stated intention of distributing the books to schools and day care centers. But some 50,000 copies remain unaccounted for and officials are probing if they were even printed.
Pugh also made $300,000 in bulk sales to other customers including health carriers that did business with the city of Baltimore.
The politically isolated Pugh slipped out of sight on April 1 after a hastily organized press conference where she called her no-contract book deals a “regrettable mistake.” That same day, Maryland’s governor called on the state prosecutor to investigate allegations of “self-dealing.”
Pugh took an indefinite leave of absence, citing her health deteriorating intensely after a bout with pneumonia.
On Thursday morning, agents with the FBI and IRS searched her two Baltimore homes, her City Hall offices, and a nonprofit organization she once led. The home of at least one of Pugh’s aides was also scoured.
Silverman said federal agents also served a subpoena at his law firm, retrieving Pugh’s original financial records. They did not seek any attorney-client privileged communications, he said.
Pugh’s attorney said she was “emotionally extremely distraught” following the searches by FBI and IRS agents.
"There was nothing incriminating that came out of her home,” Silverman said.
UMMS spokesman Michael Schwartzberg told reporters that the medical system received a grand jury witness subpoena seeking documents and information related to Pugh.
Other probes against Pugh include a review by the city ethics board and the Maryland Insurance Administration.
In recent weeks, the calls for Pugh’s resignation have intensified with the strongest voice coming from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who did not mince words after Thursday’s early morning raids.
“Now more than ever, Baltimore City needs strong and responsible leadership. Mayor Pugh has lost the public trust,” he said. “She is clearly not fit to lead. For the good of the city, Mayor Pugh must resign.”
Many of her fellow Democrats, including those on Baltimore’s demoralized City Council and state lawmakers, are also insisting that Pugh put the citizens’ interests above any attempt to preserve her political career.
City Council member Brandon Scott called the Thursday raids “an embarrassment to the city.”
However, only a conviction can trigger a mayor’s removal from office, according to the city solicitor. Baltimore’s mayor-friendly City Charter currently provides no options for ousting its executive.
Six of Pugh's staffers joined her on paid leave earlier this month; three of them were fired this week by the acting mayor.
Pugh came to office in late 2016 after edging out ex-Mayor Sheila Dixon, who had spent much of her tenure fighting corruption charges before being forced to depart office in 2010 as part of a plea deal connected to the misappropriation of about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families.
She would certainly face a bruising 2020 Democratic primary if she were to return and run for reelection. Veteran City Council leader Bernard "Jack" Young, who is serving as acting mayor, said as she went on leave that he would merely be a placeholder. But this week, before the raids, he said "it could be devastating for her" if she tried to return.