Baltimore Sun wins Pulitzer for ex-mayor book scheme stories

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Sun won a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting Monday for its coverage of a book publishing and sales scheme that led to the resignation of the city’s mayor at the time.

The newspaper last year began producing reports that unveiled Catherine Pugh’s scheme to sell her self-published children’s books to organizations to promote her political career and fund her run for mayor. The veteran Democratic politician was sentenced in February to three years in federal prison for the bulk sales.

The Pulitzer committee said the award was given to the Sun for “illuminating, impactful reporting on a lucrative, undisclosed financial relationship between the city’s mayor and the public hospital system she helped to oversee.”

The coverage of the book sales has already earned the newspaper other prestigious awards, including the George Polk Award for political reporting.

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“This Pulitzer Prize reflects the grit of a team of exceptional journalists who never quit, never stop asking difficult questions and never stop demanding answers and accountability from those in power,” Trif Alatzas, publisher and editor-in-chief of Baltimore Sun Media, said in a statement.

The scandal shook Maryland’s largest city, which for years has struggled with grinding poverty, political mismanagement, record crime rates and police abuses that led to civil unrest. And it made a mockery of Pugh’s inaugural promise to restore trust in Baltimore’s leaders.

Reporter Luke Broadwater first wrote in March 2019 that about a third of the members appointed to the board of the University of Maryland Medical System had business deals with the organization. That included Pugh’s lucrative arrangement to sell her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks.

Pugh resigned under pressure as authorities investigated the sales. Federal authorities then accused her of double selling the books, keeping many for self-promotion purposes and failing to deliver them to institutions they were purchased for, including the Baltimore City Public Schools. Pugh used the proceeds to fund straw donations to her mayoral campaign and buy a new house.

The hospital network paid Pugh $500,000 for 100,000 copies that were meant to be distributed to schoolchildren, but about 60,000 of those books were sent to a city warehouse and a Pugh office where thousands were removed to give to other customers. Prosecutors said Pugh never delivered the other 40,000 books the health system purchased.

Baltimore and state officials have closed loopholes exposed by the scandal. All elected officials in Baltimore are now required to fully report their business interests. And under a new state law, members of the health system’s board are barred from getting contracts for companies they are connected to without a bidding process and from leveraging their position for personal gain.

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