BALTIMORE -- For a moment during the unrest of 2015, state Sen. Catherine Pugh looked like the leader Baltimore needed.
After night fell on the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues -- where angry protesters defied a citywide curfew and threw water bottles at police -- Pugh spoke into a bullhorn and urged calm. Night after night, she and Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings had joined arms, kept the peace and led distraught West Baltimore residents away from the site where a CVS famously burned days earlier.
She sang "This Little Light of Mine" and proclaimed: "We are a great city!"
After the death of Freddie Gray, during one of Baltimore's most trying times, many saw leadership in Pugh, and, a year later, voters elected her the city's 50th mayor.
But what started off as a promising mayoralty ended in ignominy last year when the Democrat resigned from office amid a corruption scandal involving her sale of her "Healthy Holly" children's books to entities that did business with state and city governments. On Thursday, Pugh will be sentenced in federal court in Baltimore after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion.
She faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Arguing Pugh deliberately engaged in an "illegal scheme," prosecutors are seeking a nearly five-year term of incarceration, while Pugh's defense team is asking U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow for a prison sentence of one year and one day.
Given that Pugh is nearly 70 years old and a first-time offender, the acknowledgement from Pugh's defense lawyers that she should serve some prison time surprised many courtroom observers. But Andrew I. Alperstein, a defense attorney and former Baltimore County prosecutor, said he believes Pugh's defense team was being "realistic."
"When you have a mayor of a major American city involved in a corruption scheme, it would be difficult for a judge not to impose some punishment," Alperstein said. "It would send the wrong message to other politicians and to the public that there's no accountability."
As they head into sentencing, Pugh's defense team of Steven D. Silverman, Andrew C. White and Abigail E. Ticse, has tried to emphasize her positive qualities -- and the toll the case has taken on her.
"Ms. Pugh is paying a tremendously heavy price for her crimes," her lawyers wrote in a recent sentencing memo. "Her actions have caused significant pain, embarrassment, and shame for her and her family ... she is now too ashamed to spend any time in the community that she loves."