Few leaders speaking up in wake of Baltimore state attorney's indictment

PRESS CONFERENCE: Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby holds a press conference outside the courthouse in downtown Baltimore on March 26, 2021. Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service

BALTIMORE — Political leaders in Baltimore and across the state were reluctant to react publicly Friday to news of the city’s top prosecutor being indicted on federal criminal charges, responding with commitments to double down on work and not let the charges become a distraction.

Following the early 2021 revelation of a federal investigation and months of public speculation, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was charged Thursday with perjury related to a COVID-19 financial hardship withdrawal from her retirement savings and making false statements during the purchase of two homes in Florida.

The indictment outlines a scheme in which Mosby withdrew money without penalty from her city retirement account, stating she experienced a financial setback due to the coronavirus pandemic. She then used that money toward a down payment on a rental property in Florida where, according to the indictment, she lied by saying she didn’t have a federal tax lien and falsely said the property was a second home instead of a rental, which could mean a lower mortgage interest rate.

News of the charges was still washing over city residents Thursday evening as the first top officials declined to comment on the matter. Gov. Larry Hogan, who has been critical of Mosby, arguing her prosecutorial choices contribute to violent crime in the city, declined to comment on the charges. Just two months ago, Hogan ordered a review of state funding to Mosby’s office and demanded detailed statistics on how often her office dismisses cases or strikes deals with defendants.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott pledged not to allow the charges to distract his administration.

“With so much at stake, Mayor Scott will continue to champion transparency and accountability to maintain trust in City Hall and prove that local government can operate in the best interests of Baltimoreans,” his spokesman Cal Harris said. “Mayor Scott will not allow these charges to distract his administration from addressing Baltimore’s most pressing needs and paving a new way for our city.”

Commissioner Michael Harrison, who works closely with Mosby to prosecute charges related to the Baltimore Police Department’s work also pledged through a spokeswoman to remain focused in the wake of the indictment.

“The Police Commissioner is focused on the job of improving the management practices of the police department so that we can be a more effective agency to reduce crime and to keep the residents of Baltimore safe,” said spokeswoman Amanda Krotki.

Few members of Baltimore’s state delegation were willing to comment Friday. Those that did worried about the distrust the case could cause for city residents.

State Sen. Jill Carter said we “don’t know enough” to weigh in on the charges but called it “sad for the city” that the case could cast a cloud over city government.

”I think it’s safe to say we all feel deeply saddened by this,” Carter said. “I do think this will make it extremely difficult for our city to function in the meantime.”

State Sen. Mary Washington called the allegations against Mosby “concerning.”

“I worry about the distrust that stories like these continue to sow in the people of Baltimore when it comes to believing in their government.”

Baltimore City Council members, who work under the leadership of Mosby’s husband, Council President Nick Mosby, were even more reluctant to weigh in on the matter. Voice mails left for several members went unreturned. Others declined to answer their phones. The council president has not responded to multiple requests for comment, but reposted a series of Instagram posts supportive of his wife to his own account Friday afternoon.

Councilman John Bullock urged his colleagues not to rush to judgment.

“I’d like to see the process play itself out,” he said.

Bullock said the city has faced criminal charges against other officials in recent years and weathered the storm.

Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned from office in 2019 amid an investigation into a self-dealing scandal involving her Healthy Holly books, eventually pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion. Bullock, a councilman since 2016, was also in office as Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa resigned in 2018 as pressure mounted from a federal probe into his personal finances. De Sousa later pleaded guilty to failing to file federal tax returns.

Bullock said he worried about how the charges may reflect upon the city on the national stage.

“That’s an unfortunate reality when we have a series of situations that folks may have a negative view of the city and try to run with that narrative,” he said. “We know there’s much more going on with Baltimore than some of those headlines and we try to present the best image of the city given what we’re doing.”

As the city’s legislative arm, Baltimore City Council has little oversight over the Baltimore’s State’s Attorney’s office although the group has oversight of the office’s budget. Council members have traditionally taken a hands-off approach to the office. The council president, who also chairs the city’s spending board as part of his position, has repeatedly recused himself since taking office from all financial matters from the state’s attorney’s office.

Comptroller Bill Henry said the city’s voters understood the Mosbys’ “dynamic” when they elected the council president to office.

“While these charges may add an emotional and a political dynamic to the situation, from a policy perspective, he dealt with the potential conflict last budget season, and there’s every reason to expect him to deal with it this year as well,” Henry said.

Of the state’s attorney, Henry said the charges do not need to impede her work.

“Absent a guilty plea, conviction or inability to carry out the duties of the office, there’s no reason for her to step aside,” he said.

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