By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, syoes@afro.com

Former Baltimore Mayor faces the possibility of more than 125 years in prison.

A Dwight Pettit, the formidable Baltimore defense attorney, has also been a go- to legal analyst for decades. This week he was thrust into the position of assessing the legal peril of his longtime friend and former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, facing an 11-count federal indictment, including charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and tax evasion. The federal charges are connected to Pugh’s sale of a self-published series of children’s books to non-profit organizations and foundations that did business with the government. Pugh, 69, is scheduled for an initial appearance and arraignment before U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on Nov. 21, at 1 p.m.

Pettit’s analysis of Pugh’s indictment was succinct, “She’s in big trouble,” he said.

The disgraced former mayor of Baltimore was charged on Nov. 20 with fraud and tax evasion involving sales of her self-published children’s books. An 11-count federal indictment accuses Pugh of using her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to enrich herself, promote her political career and fund her run for mayor. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

“The first thing of course is tax evasion and that is in black and white; either you reported as income or you didn’t. So, I always knew that was a major thing the feds were looking at, because that would be what they can hang the whole hat on in terms of the initial prosecution,” added Pettit.

“The other part of it seems to be a scheme, or conspiracy between her and Mr. Brown to in fact transfer funds, or move funds in a collaborative way in violation of their representation to the public. In other words, move it (money) to the campaign, move it to her personally with a scheme where they would in fact cash certain checks and then give back to her in cash,” explained Pettit. The Mr. Brown Pettit speaks of is Gary Brown, Jr., 38, Pugh’s former aide in the State Senate and during her 2016 campaign for mayor. The indictment would seem to signal a catastrophic end to one of the most durable political careers in Maryland in decades. It was Pettit, along with his wife Barbara that helped introduce Pugh, then named Catherine Clark (Pettit alleges she was married to a former Morgan State University basketball star with the last name Clark in the 1970’s), into the cliquish Baltimore community.

“My wife and I were friends with Cathy when she was just fresh out of Philadelphia. She and her husband, myself and my wife would vacation together. We lived in the same apartment complex when I first came back to Maryland from Howard University,” revealed Pettit regarding the days in the early 1970’s when the two couples lived in the Bonnie Ridge apartment complex in the Mt. Washington community in Baltimore. Specifically, Pettit said his wife helped Pugh get a job with the Council for Equal Business Opportunity (CEBO), an organization founded by the legendary community leader Sam Daniels.

“We sort of introduced her to a lot of political figures in Baltimore, because she didn’t know anybody. So, we were there at the beginning of her political career,” said Pettit, who also played a role in Pugh’s political resurrection after her loss in the race for City Council President, to Sheila Dixon in 2003. According to Pettit, it was then Gov. Robert Ehrlich who consulted the attorney when the governor was tasked with filling the 40th District House of Delegates seat left vacant after the death of Tony Fulton in 2005. After Pettit’s recommendation of Pugh to Ehrlich, she entered the House that year.

“I was very disappointed…when the news began to break about this situation,” Pettit said of Pugh.

“Because to me it becomes so obvious, if you are going to become a major political figure and be under the spotlight of the press, you know certain things you’ve got to do. And one of those is be straight with your taxes.” 

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor