As one of the most absurd corruption scandals in recent American memory continues to snowball, agents from the FBI and IRS on Thursday raided two homes owned by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, as well as city hall, presumably in connection with the "children's book" corruption scandal that has inflamed tensions in the city and prompted calls for Pugh to resign immediately.
According to AP, Dave Fitz, an FBI spokesman from the agency's Baltimore office, said the agents were "executing court-authorized search warrants" but couldn't release any more details because the warrants were sealed. On April 1, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan asked state prosecutors to begin a criminal investigation into what appears to be a brazen kickback scheme involving sales of Pugh's "Healthy Holly" book series. Agents also raided a non-profit with which Pugh has been associated.
Update: FBI also confirms agents are at address of office for Maryland Center for Adult training, a non-profit program Pugh has been closely involved with— Ian Duncan (@iduncan) April 25, 2019
Yes, you read that right. The mayor of Baltimore has been accused of using her position to secure contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the University of Maryland Medical System and managed-care consortium KaiserPermanente. The contracts were agreements to buy thousands of copies of Pugh's "Healthy Holly" books, a series written by Pugh.
Pugh was sitting on the organization's board when she received the contract from the University of Maryland system. And shortly after she received a payment from KaiserPermanente, the company received a $48 million contract from the city. Though we're sure that's just a coincidence. Furthermore, some of the "Healthy Holly" copies that Pugh sold to the University of Maryland Medical System remain unaccounted for, and some suspect they may never have been printed.
In response to the scandal, which was uncovered by reporters from the Baltimore Sun earlier this month, the city council demanded that Pugh resign in a terse letter signed by the entire membership. The city's congressional delegation has also called on Pugh to resign, as have other state officials.
Adding to the farce, Pugh and five of her closest aids took a paid leave a few weeks ago, around the time Hogan called for a criminal investigation, with Pugh claiming that she has been recuperating after a brutal bout of pneumonia. She has barely been heard from or seen in that time.
Maryland's chief accountant called Pugh's "self-dealing" arrangements to sell her books as "brazen, cartoonish corruption."
Unfortunately for its long-suffering residents, who have been fleeing the city in droves as crime spirals out of control, City Hall is no stranger to absurd corruption cases. Pugh won the mayor's seat after triumphing over ex-Mayor Sheila Dixon, who spent much of her prior tenure as mayor battling corruption allegations stemming from her 'misappropriation' of $500 in gift cards intended for needy families. Dixon was accused of taking the gift cards and using them as gifts for family members. Dixon left office in 2010 as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
Pugh's predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who took over from Dixon after her resignation, opted not to seek another term after she was roundly criticized for her handling of the Freddie Gray protests/riots.
Unfortunately for the city, only a conviction can force a Baltimore mayor's removal from office. The city's charter leaves no options for ousting the mayor, which amounts to a major bargaining chip for Pugh.
However, now that she appears to have become the target of a federal investigation, it will likely become increasingly difficult for her to hang on. Perhaps she'll need to invent another illness to avoid dealing with the public fallout from these raids.