Healthy Holly has certainly racked up some healthy sales figures. But they may just have been a consequence of overdosing. The Mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, author of these books, self-published them at various times between 2011 and now, though there seems to be uncertainty about just how many titles there have been. Three can be seen here: A Healthy start for Herbie, Fruits come in colors like the rainbow, and Exercising is fun, though pictures may be found online of Vegetables are not just green and Walking with my family is fun. This last is no doubt just a proof.

The bonny bouncing sales were made to organizations like the University of Maryland Medical System on who’s board the author sat at the time of the sale of 100,000 copies at $5 a pop. Now I suppose one can see a scenario in which this would be acceptable — the board says “If only we could find some little colorful books to encourage kids to be healthy” and Ms Pugh pipes up “I’ve got just the thing, and could easily bang out a couple more” to which the board says “Great, let’s do it”. Maybe at that point someone might have suggested a possible conflict of interest problem, but I can certainly imagine a good-will-all-round situation where this would be basically OK. But clearly it wasn’t. Ms Pugh is quoted as saying that the deal with the medical system had been a mistake. “I am deeply sorry for the lack of confidence or disappointment which this initiative may have caused Baltimore city residents, friends and colleagues”. And by paying back $100,000 Ms Pugh signals to us all that everything was not on the up and up with this deal. There are reports of many books languishing in warehouses, and it might seem that the accounting process has been altogether vague. It turns out that other board members of UMMS may also have been engaged in apparent self-dealing. Insurance was one example mentioned by NPR’s Morning Edition today.

Mayor Pugh is taking a leave of absence having been struck down by pneumonia. That she is a Democrat is perhaps not irrelevant in light of the Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s involvement. He has written to State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt “These are deeply disturbing allegations. I am particularly concerned about the UMMS sale because it has significant continuing ties with the State and receives very substantial public funding.” He has further tweeted (something Republicans seem intent on bringing into the political mainstream) “The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also [have] to deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive”.

The Baltimore Sun now reports that the State Prosecutor is opening an investigation. Their story includes video coverage.

Is this a first? A full-blown political scandal revolving around the publishing of books. We generally just get to bring out accounts of this sort of thing, not to be the very mechanism driving the scandal. We can stand tall now we find our industry coopted into a story of alleged malfeasance.

The Wall Street Journal reported the story. (Link via The Passive Voice)

LATER (28 February 2020): Lit Hub reports Ms Pugh has been sentenced to three years in jail and three years on probation. She will also have to pay about $412,000 in restitution and forfeit almost $670,000 worth of property.