April 1, 2019 / 11:14 PM / 2 months ago

Baltimore mayor, under fire over book sales, takes leave for health

(Reuters) - Baltimore’s embattled mayor began an indefinite hiatus on Monday, citing health reasons for her leave on the same day the state’s governor called for a probe into sales of her self-published books to a health provider.

Mayor Catherine Pugh has been battling pneumonia for a few weeks and her physicians have advised her to focus on recuperating, her office said in a statement.

“At this time, with the mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as mayor of Baltimore City,” the statement from Pugh’s office said. “To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness.”

Pugh, who was elected mayor in 2016, has been under fire since the Baltimore Sun reported last month the University of Maryland Medical System paid her $500,000 between 2012 and 2018 to buy copies of her self-published children’s book series, “Healthy Holly.”

The series promotes healthy choices for children, such as exercise and eating vegetables.

Pugh, a Democrat, was serving on the board of the medical system when she received payments for the books. She was among nine members of the board with some form of business arrangement with the medical system, the newspaper reported.

‘REGRETTABLE MISTAKE’

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, sent the state prosecutor a letter on Monday asking him to investigate the University of Maryland Medical System payments to Pugh, according to a copy of the letter provided by Hogan’s office.

“These are deeply disturbing allegations,” the letter said.

Steve Silverman, an attorney for Pugh, could not immediately be reached for comment on the governor’s letter.

At a news conference on Thursday, Pugh apologized for the book sales to the University of Maryland Medical System, but said they were part of an effort to encourage young people to make good choices.

“In hindsight, this arrangement with the University of Maryland Medical System was a regrettable mistake,” Pugh told reporters.

Baltimore’s City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young will temporarily take over mayoral duties in Pugh’s absence.

Pugh, 69, was formerly on the Baltimore City Council and a member of the state legislature. She took office as mayor over a year after riots in Baltimore due to the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered fatal injuries in police custody.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Chris Reese

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