Baltimore Mayor Takes ‘Indefinite Leave’ as Self-Dealing Scandal Spurs Calls for Resignation

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh / Getty Images
April 1, 2019

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D.) announced Monday she is taking an indefinite eave of absence, citing health reasons.

This follows embarrassing revelations of a book-selling arrangement she had with Baltimore's largest health providers, which led to calls from top officials for her to step down.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R.) told the state prosecutor that the allegations against Pugh are "deeply disturbing," the Associated Press reported. Hogan expressed particular concern about a $500,000 sale to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) "because it has significant continuing ties with the State and receives very substantial public funding."

Comptroller Peter Franchot (D.) was explicit in his demand for Pugh to leave office immediately.

"The Mayor has to resign — now," he tweeted Monday. "The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive."

Franchot shared a Baltimore Sun article describing Pugh’s deal with health provider Kaiser Permanente, in which the company purchased 20,000 copies of her Healthy Holly children’s books while seeking a contract with the city. The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Mid-Atlantic States Inc. was awarded the $48 million contract by Baltimore’s spending board, which the mayor controls.

Last week, Pugh called the book deal with the University of Maryland health care system "a regrettable mistake." Now her office is saying she needs time to recover from pneumonia.

"She is unable to fulfill her obligations as Mayor of Baltimore City," the mayor's office said. "To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness."

Kaiser Permanente said they "purchased the books from Healthy Holly, LLC," which is Pugh’s company.

According to the Sun, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield also bought some of Pugh’s illustrated books in 2011 and 2014.

Despite all these deals, Pugh’s printer had only put out 60,000 copies of her books and didn’t have any orders for more. The UMMS deal alone was for 100,000 books. There was no contract for the books, and some of the purchases were called "grants" in federal filings.

Before she was mayor, Pugh served on the state senate committee for that funded the UMMS.

UMMS CEO Robert A. Chrencik was put on paid leave last week as he faces an investigation into self-dealing.

The board members are also facing ethics questions of their own. Gov. Hogan said it's "appalling" that UMMS board members were compensated through UMMS’s arrangements with their businesses. An independent auditor has been selected to review the financial arrangements, but interim UMMS leader John Ashworth said he didn't think anything criminal had occurred.

Published under: Maryland