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Ex-Baltimore Mayor Pugh fulfilled final 'Healthy Holly' deal, attorney says — but unclear where the books went

Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE -- An attorney for former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she has now fulfilled her end of a 2017 deal in which the University of Maryland Medical System paid her $100,000 for 20,000 copies of her self-published "Healthy Holly" children's books.

Pugh "has 100% performed her obligations under her agreement," her lawyer, Steve Silverman, said in response to questions from The Baltimore Sun about the arrangement, which occurred while Pugh was a member of the volunteer UMMS board of directors.

His statement did not answer questions about the whereabouts or recipients of the books, which Pugh promised more than two months ago were on their way to Baltimore schoolchildren.

"The shipment of these books to Baltimore City Public Schools is in the process of completion," the Democrat said in late March during her final public comments from City Hall. "There was no deadline to ship those books."

UMMS made five payments to Pugh of $100,000 for five purchases of 20,000 books each in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018. It said it bought the books for city students, but never took possession of them and left their distribution to Pugh and her Healthy Holly LLC.

During her March news conference, Pugh provided documentation showing Kromar Printing of Canada produced three batches of books, totaling 60,000 copies, to fulfill the first three purchases. Pugh returned the fifth and final payment to UMMS, leaving only the 2017 order unresolved.

Within days of the news conference, Pugh took a leave of absence to recover from pneumonia. She resigned after the FBI and IRS investigators raided two of her houses and City Hall in April, taking items related to her book deals. Other entities, including the state prosecutor's office and the city ethics board, also are investigating.

UMMS wouldn't comment on a final shipment of books, citing the investigations and an internal review of its board contracts by the California-based firm Nygren Consulting.

"Due to the apparent ongoing investigations of former Mayor Pugh, coupled with the Nygren board review currently underway, it would be inappropriate (to) elaborate on these facts," said Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for UMMS.

School administrators and school board members said late last week they haven't been contacted about a new delivery. They've called previous orders "unsolicited," and acknowledged storing thousands of copies from a previous shipment in a warehouse.

Kromar said it was not contacted about printing a fourth batch of books.

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Pugh has used a second Canadian printer: Premier Printing. The FBI took a "Healthy Holly" book proof and a Premier Printing invoice from City Hall, according to receipts of property seized during the raid.

Premier Printing President William Gortemaker confirmed his company printed books for Pugh on multiple occasions, but would not say when or how many.

Silverman has declined to answer similar questions or to provide invoices related to Premier Printing, saying shortly after the City Hall raid that they were "in the hands of the government."

Silverman previously said the books to fulfill the fourth UMMS payment were "ready for delivery" in May. He also said earlier that his office was working to determine if books were still due under the deals Pugh had struck with other organizations to buy books for children.

Some of those entities had business before the city. Pugh has not provided evidence that she fulfilled those orders, though some of the buyers -- including Kaiser Permanente -- said they received books. Others said they did not receive all the books they paid for.

(The Baltimore Sun Talia Richman contributed to this article.)

(c)2019 The Baltimore Sun

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