By Donna Owens
BALTIMORE (Reuters) – Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced on Thursday to three years in federal prison for fraud and tax evasion schemes involving bogus sales of her children’s book series.
U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow ordered Pugh, who served for three years as mayor of Maryland’s largest city, to surrender no later than April 13.
“This could not have come at a worse time for the city,” the judge said in an apparent reference to Baltimore’s struggle to overcome its dark history of government kickbacks, police corruption and steep murder rate.
“It is astounding. This was not a tiny mistake; this became a very large fraud,” the judge said in an emotion-choked voice.
Pugh, who turns 70 next week, pleaded guilty in November to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. She faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison.
She admitted fraudulent sales of her series of self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books, pulling in roughly $650,000 while failing to deliver the goods to public schools. She used the ill-gotten gains to buy and renovate a second home in Baltimore, prosecutors said.
Before she was sentenced, Pugh spoke for about 10 minutes, tears running down her face as she stood before the judge.
“No one is more disappointed than me,” said Pugh, who is divorced and has no children.
“I do not want to take my city through any more shame as a result of my actions,” said Pugh, whose brothers were among family members sitting in the courtroom.
The three-year sentence was less than the 57 months (4 years, 9 months) behind bars that was requested by Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise, who said Pugh’s schemes were “shocking” and akin to a “mobster movie.”
Pugh’s lawyer, Steve Silverman, had asked for a sentence of one year and one day. He praised her work on behalf of Baltimore, noting she had launched a fashion-design high school for girls and removed Confederate statues displayed in the city.
(Reporting by Donna Owens in Baltimore; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)