Catherine Pugh: Former Baltimore mayor charged with fraud

Image source, Reuters

Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has been charged with fraud and tax evasion over sales of her self-published children's books.

Ms Pugh is accused of defrauding buyers of her Healthy Holly books to enrich herself, promote her political career and fund her campaign for mayor.

She resigned as mayor in May, apologising for the harm she had caused to "the credibility of the office".

She is expected to appear in court on Thursday.

In the charges made public on Wednesday, prosecutors accuse Ms Pugh of defrauding buyers by double-selling books or failing to deliver them after accepting payments.

They allege that the 69 year old used the proceeds to fund straw donations - usually taken to mean evading financial contribution limits by disguising the origin of a donation - to her mayoral election campaign and to purchase and renovate a house in Baltimore.

The "vast majority" of Healthy Holly books were sold to non-profit organisations and foundations, "many of whom did business or attempted to do business with the Maryland and Baltimore City governments," a statement from the US Attorney's Office in Maryland says.

Ms Pugh is said to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sales of the books.

The former state lawmaker is also accused of evading taxes, claiming a taxable income in 2016 of $31,020 (£24,000) when prosecutors say it was actually $322,365.

The 11 charges against her include seven counts of wire fraud and two of tax evasion. In total, they carry potential sentences of 175 years in prison.

Ms Pugh is expected to "self-surrender" prior to the court hearing on Thursday. Her lawyer has not yet issued a statement on the charges.

In a statement, US attorney Robert Hur said elected officials "must place the interests of the citizens above their own."

"Corrupt public employees rip off the taxpayers and undermine everyone's faith in government. The US Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners will zealously pursue those who abuse the taxpayers' trust and bring them to justice," he added.

Ms Pugh was elected to a four-year term as mayor in 2016.

She is the second Baltimore mayor in the past decade to leave office while facing allegations of corruption. In 2009, former Mayor Sheila Dixon was found guilty of misdemeanour embezzlement and forced to resign. Dixon ran for office again in 2015 and lost, to Ms Pugh.

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