Baltimore, MD

This Corrupt Mayor Sought Clemency From Trump

Ryan Fan

Baltimore has had its fair share of corrupt mayors in the past 12 years. In 2009, mayor Sheila Dixon had a 12 count indictment. She had charges of fraud, theft, and misconduct in office, and would later face charges of felony theft and embezzlement for stealing gift cards she initially intended to give to the needy.

Dixon was found guilty of embezzlement, according to John Crosset at Fox 5 News. She eventually entered a plea deal where she avoided jail time and kept her pension, but agreed not to seek office in Baltimore City or the state in general for four years, but she would receive a lighter sentence than she normally would have.

The Sheila Dixon corruption episode was a particularly low point for Baltimore, the city I live and teach in, which already faces its fair share of challenges. However, few would foresee that the political corruption would only get worse.

Mayor Catherine Pugh, ten years later and only two mayors after Dixon, would plead guilty to four counts of conspiracy and tax evasion. Pugh was accused of using the University of Maryland Medical System to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in payment for her children’s book on exercise, “Healthy Holly.” Pugh was a member of the board of the University of Maryland Medical Center. The indictment originally wanted to charge her with criminal racket, and the FBI would eventually raid her home.

“Investigators also uncovered that she laundered illegal campaign contributions and failed to pay taxes,” Justin Fenton said in the Baltimore Sun.

Prosecutors said that Pugh conspired with two of her associates, Gary Brown Jr. and Roslyn Wedington, to defraud people who bought the Healthy Holly books to fund her campaign for mayor. The books were sold, but never delivered to people. The ones that were delivered were used at campaign events, and some were even resold and donated to the school system.

As for where the money went, prosecutors say Pugh used the stolen money to fund her campaign and buy and renovate her new house.

Pugh would eventually be sentenced to three years in federal prison. She would have to surrender her passport to law enforcement. When the judge asked her if all the charges against her were true, Pugh said, “I do.”

In a dramatic twist of irony, Pugh, who was a Democratic mayor, sought clemency from Donald Trump in the last days of his presidency. She wanted her three-year sentence commuted, but Donald Trump did not grant her clemency.

Right now, Pugh is in federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama. She is expected to serve out the rest of her sentence.

Who was Catherine Pugh?

According to the Maryland State Archives, Pugh was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. After she was born, Pugh would attend and graduate from Overbrook High School in Philadelphia. She would eventually attend Morgan State University in Baltimore, graduating in 1973 in business administration, and earning her MBA in 1977 at the same university.

Pugh would start teaching at Morgan State University after receiving her MBA. Eventually, she would found her own public relations firm — Pugh and Company, and she would become an independent director for the Baltimore Sun and work for various TV stations. But she would soon turn her attention to politics in 1999.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to lead this city…We’ve got a lot of work to do. This city has been good to me. It has ingratiated me. I think I’ve become a part of the fabric of this community,” Pugh said.

Pugh would serve on the Baltimore City Council from 1999 to 2003. She would challenge future mayor, Sheila Dixon, but lose, and Pugh would eventually be involved in the Maryland General Assembly. She earned a seat on the Maryland House of Delegates, and would eventually serve as the State Senate Majority Leader.

Pugh would win the 2016 Baltimore mayoral election after receiving an endorsement from the late Elijah Cummings. She would barely edge out Sheila Dixon in her re-election campaign by 3% of the vote.

As the mayor of Baltimore, Pugh faced a variety of challenges. In Baltimore, issues of the city’s rate of violent crime, homelessness, and vacant houses would take the forefront. She voted for a bill to give a one-year minimum sentence for the illegal possession of a gun.


As a teacher in Baltimore City, it’s hard to have faith in the political leadership of the city when so much of it is corrupt. Whether Pugh was an isolated incident of corruption or a pattern of a larger problem, both are equally concerning. Regardless, several hundreds of thousands of dollars could have gone a long way to repairing the education system.

While Pugh is trying to repair her reputation now, it would take a miracle to do so, and a Trump pardon is not enough.

Pugh abused the trust of the people of Baltimore, and she deserves to be held accountable for doing so. But should Catherine Pugh’s crimes affect the rest of her life? Probably not.

Society will be ready to forgive Catherine Pugh one day, but that day is not today. While she may be able to run for mayor again like Sheila Dixon, the collective pain of many Baltimore voters will make sure that her corruption is not forgotten. In the words of Robert K. Hur, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland:

“This a tragedy and the last thing our city needs…The victims are all of us: the taxpayers and the people of Baltimore who expect and deserve integrity from their public officials. The people of Baltimore expect, and they should expect, that elected officials place the interests of their citizens above their own.”
Photo of Catherine Pugh — From Charleneljz on Dreamstime
Originally published at CrimeBeat on February 3rd, 2021.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me:

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