- Catherine Pugh, the former mayor of Baltimore, was sentenced to three years in prison on Thursday as a result of the fraudulent sales of her children’s books.
- Pugh sold thousands of her books to nonprofits, but prosecutors claim she frequently failed to deliver them after accepting payment and, in some cases, double-sold the books to different buyers.
- She resigned from her post last May after the FBI raided her homes and in November, the ex-mayor pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion.
Former Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Thursday for corruption charges related to the children’s book scam that derailed her political career.
Last November, Pugh pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion. These crimes were linked to the sales of her “Healthy Holly” children’s book series which aimed to promote a healthy lifestyle for young people. Prosecutors said she fraudulently sold the books to nonprofits to accrue more than $800,000 for her campaign and personal funds.
“This morning was a sad occasion,” Robert Hur, the US Attorney for the District of Maryland, told reporters after the sentencing.
“Holding public office is a rare privilege and an opportunity to serve the community and get things done that help our community. And unfortunately, the type of fraud and public corruption that Ms. Pugh committed — and was sentenced to three years in federal prison for today — undermines everyone’s faith in government and what government can do for the people,” Hur said.
Prosecutors suggested a nearly five-year sentence for Pugh, while her attorneys were seeking a sentence of one year and one day. U.S. district judge Deborah K. Chasanow settled somewhere in the middle with three years in prison, and three years of parole following that.
Additionally, Judge Chasanow ordered Pugh to pay $411,948 in restitution as well as forfeit more than $669,000 including her property in Baltimore and funds from her re-election campaign committee.
Pugh expressed remorse for her actions in a video that her attorneys submitted to the court the day before her sentencing.
“I just want to apologize to the citizens, to young people, to partners, my friends, everyone I’ve offended, everyone I’ve hurt,” Pugh said in the clip.
“I accept total responsibility. I’ve plead guilty. I’m sorry,” she added.
Background of the Scandal
Pugh, 69, had been serving as Baltimore’s mayor since 2016. This tenure came to a halt after state and federal investigators began questioning the integrity of her “Healthy Holly” sales. Pugh sold tens of thousands of books nonprofit organizations and foundations that had a business relationship, or hoped to have a business relationship, with the city of Baltimore. One of these organizations was the University of Maryland Medical Center, where Pugh served as a board member.
Prosecutors said Pugh frequently failed to deliver the children’s books after accepting payment and, in some cases, she was double-selling the same sets of books to different buyers in order to gain more profits.
After the FBI raided city hall and her homes, Pugh resigned in May 2019.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (NPR)
Multiple States Crack Down on TikTok With Partial Bans, Lawsuits
Nearly half a dozen states have taken some kind of enforcement action against the video-sharing platform in the past two weeks alone.
Texas Bans TikTok for State Agencies
A growing number of U.S. states have been cracking down on TikTok in recent weeks amid growing concerns about security threats posed by the popular video-sharing app.
On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered all state agencies to ban the use of the platform on any government-issued phones and computers. In a letter to state officials, Abbott specifically cited concerns over data security on the Chinese-owned app.
“TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices—including when, where, and how they conduct Internet activity—and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” he wrote.
“While TikTok has claimed that it stores U.S. data within the U.S., the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to U.S. data,” the governor continued. “It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens.”
Abbott also mentioned that China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law requires businesses to help China with intelligence work, “including data sharing,” noting the algorithm already censors certain topics that are politically sensitive to the Chinese government.
Additional State-Level Bans
Abbott, however, is just the most recent Republican governor to take similar action against TikTok.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Tuesday issued an emergency directive banning the use of TikTok and other “Chinese and Russian-influenced products” in the executive branch of the state government.
On Monday, the governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster (R), also requested that the state’s department of administration block TikTok on all state government devices that it manages. The week prior, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) additionally barred all state employees and contractors from using the app on state-owned devices.
The rapid succession of new policies is notable because, according to the Wall Street Journal, before the last two weeks, Nebraska was the only state to impose these kinds of bans, having done so back in 2020.
The latest actions are likely due in part to a public statement last week from FBI Director Chris Wray, who raised concerns about the app and said its algorithm “allows them to manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations.”
More bans could be on the horizon: this week, a group of Wisconsin’s members of Congress asked the state’s Democratic governor to ban the app from state devices, and legislators in Arkansas drafted a similar bill for the next session.
Meanwhile, some states are cracking down on the video-sharing app in a different way. Also on Wednesday, Indiana’s attorney general filed two lawsuits against TikTok. The first accuses the company of misleading users about how safe the app is for children, claiming that it exposes them to inappropriate content despite its 12-plus age rating on the App Store.
The second alleges that the platform deceived customers about China’s ability to access their data, stating it has the ability “to spy on, blackmail, and coerce” users in the name of Chinese national security.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CBS News) (CNN)
North Carolina County May Be Without Power for Days After Substation Attacks
Tens of thousands have been left without power as temperatures drop.
Power Outage Prompts State of Emergency
Two power substations in Moore County, North Carolina were attacked on Saturday and sustained heavy damage from gunfire. The damage has left about 40,000 people without power as the temperatures fall.
Response to the crisis has been swift. A state of emergency was declared Sunday afternoon, an emergency shelter powered by a generator has been opened, and local schools have canceled classes for Monday.
Local authorities have partnered with state and federal agencies in an effort to find those responsible for the attack. The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation as well as the FBI have joined the investigation
The Sheriff of Moore county, Ronnie Fields, said the attack was “targeted” while speaking at a news conference Sunday night.
“It wasn’t random,” he told reporters. “The person, or persons, who did this knew exactly what they were doing.”
A representative from Duke Energy, the owner of the substations, informed the public that the damages are significant and will require complete replacement of key parts. Unfortunately, the company will not be able to reroute power as they have during storms. The representative said that, because of this, people in Moore County may be without power until Thursday.
Investigation Into Perpetrators
As of now, authorities don’t know who is responsible. Sheriff Fields told the press that no group has taken credit for the attack. The investigation is ongoing.
“An attack like this on critical infrastructure is a serious, intentional crime and I expect state and federal authorities to thoroughly investigate and bring those responsible to justice,” Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said in a tweet Sunday night.
On social media, many have speculated that the attack was an effort to stop a local drag show from being performed. The show had reportedly garnered a significant number of protesters and a police presence. The power cut out Saturday evening shortly after the show had started.
Sheriff Fields reported Sunday night that, so far, no connection has been found between the attack and the drag show.
Adderall Shortage Sparks Fears of Opioid-Like Crisis
Experts specifically have expressed concerns that the lack of legal Adderall will force people to turn to black markets as they did when the supply of opioids was cut off.
Public health experts watching the ongoing Adderall shortage in the U.S. have raised concerns about the possibility that it could cause a major health crisis.
In mid-October, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that there was a nationwide shortage of immediate-release Adderall. The agency specifically noted that Teva Pharmaceuticals, which is the biggest manufacturer of the drug, was “experiencing ongoing intermittent manufacturing delays.”
Since then, the FDA has also reported that there are other manufacturers experiencing similar problems as well. In statements to the media, Teva has explained that the supply disruptions were triggered by a combination of a since-resolved labor shortage on its packing line this summer, as well as increased demand for the drug.
Adderall prescriptions have skyrocketed over the last two decades. From 2006 to 2016, the prescription of stimulants more than doubled in the U.S., and those numbers have grown since the pandemic. According to figures from the data analytics firm IQVIA, from 2019 to 2021, Adderall prescriptions alone rose by about 16%, surging from 35.5 million to 41.2 million.
Experts say the big spike over the last few years has been driven by the fact that more people are seeking these drugs to help cope with stress and distraction. Telehealth regulations that were relaxed during the pandemic also made it much easier for people to get diagnosed and prescribed in shorter periods of time.
A growing number of new start-ups have been taking advantage of lax rules, flooding social media — and specifically TikTok — with advertisements telling people to get ADHD meds if they feel distracted or tired. Many professionals say these apps pose issues because they are designed for such quick diagnosis so it can be hard to tell if ADHD is actually the problem people who present those symptoms are dealing with.
The resulting effect has been renewed speculation that stimulants are being overprescribed — a factor some believe could also be driving this shortage.
Additionally, Adderall is a Schedule II controlled substance, so it is highly regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), meaning there are caps on how much each company can produce so they can’t just ramp up production to make up for the backlog. It is also difficult for pharmacies to just pivot and start carrying new brands because of the regulations on this drug.
Leo Beletsky, a professor of law and health sciences at Northeastern University and faculty director of the Health in Justice Action Lab, worries all these elements could create the perfect storm for a full-blown crisis.
In an interview with Rogue Rocket, he outlined two overarching concerns.
“One is that you have lots of people who had access, sort of regular access to medication that they may not now have access to, and there are individual-level risks that sort of cascade from that,” he said. “Insomnia, depression, in some instances, you could even see suicidal ideation. So all of these are kind of, you know, health risks that result from rapid tapering or discontinuation, discontinuation of taking Adderall.”
“What is an even bigger concern or, an equally important concern, is that lots of people without access to the pharmaceutical supply will turn to the illicit market and counterfeit Adderall is readily available on the illicit market and other forms of unfettered means. Specifically, methamphetamine is available, widely available on the illicit market 24/7. You know, there’s no shortage in that market,” he continued.
Beletsky explained that there are a number of harms that can come as a result of people turning to the black market — and there is first-hand evidence of this from the opioid crisis. As he noted, opioids were also widely criticized as being overprescribed, and so when access was cut for prescription opioids, people turned to illegal markets and there was a massive spike in the use of heroin, counterfeit opioids, and fentanyl contamination.
“The public health, sort of population-level concern is that we might see similar patterns here where lots of folks are being pushed into the market and they’re, you know, it’s the Wild West. Counterfeit Adderall oftentimes does have methamphetamine,” he stated. Counterfeit Adderall can also be cross-contaminated with other dangerous drugs like fentanyl.
“Methamphetamine is even cheaper than counterfeit Adderall pills, and so the concern is that folks might start smoking meth and even injecting meth, which is, you know, increasingly common,” Beletsky continued. “It would be a huge public health disaster if thousands or even millions of people started taking methamphetamine in or trying to replace this pharmaceutical supply.”
Beletsky pointed out a number of tools the FDA has at its disposal to address the possible crisis and clear up the shortage, including encouraging other competitors to create new sources of production, as well as encouraging the importation of Adderall from abroad.
However, while the agency would have the power to fast-track these actions to skirt regulatory hurdles, so far, they have not taken any of these steps. In response to questions as to whether the FDA will intervene and speed up the process, a spokesperson told Rogue Rocket that the agency “evaluates all its tools and determines how best to address each shortage situation based on its cause and the public health risk associated with the shortage.”
When asked when the FDA thinks the shortage will be resolved, the spokesperson said it is “expecting the supply issues to resolve in the next 30-60 days.”
But Beletsky said he does not buy that timeline.
“I’m afraid that they may be over overly optimistic given the scale of the problem,” he told Rogue Rocket. “My guess is it’s going to take months to resolve. And I hope that, you know, most folks are able to kind of make do and not start kind of purchasing alternatives from the illicit market.”
The professor emphasized that the current shortage is a symptom of broader problems with America’s overall system for drug regulation that goes beyond the FDA and centers on the powers granted to the DEA.
Unlike the FDA, the DEA is a law enforcement agency, and Beletsky notes it has a long history of focusing on controlling the supply of these kinds of drugs rather than ensuring there is adequate access for the people who need them.
As a result, the DEA has very little control over both the legal and illegal markets for controlled substances. Because of this, people lack proper access to the prescriptions they need while the massive, unregulated black market is thriving.
Beletsky argued it is imperative that we use this latest shortage as yet another wake-up call to highlight the need for rethinking how drug access is structured in America.
“I think that it’s really important to highlight the failures of the DEA in this context, because the DEA, much more than the FDA, is responsible for finding that balance between access and control,” he said. “I think that we really need to reevaluate the role of the DEA in our drug regulatory system. And the FDA, on the other hand, probably could use additional authority.”
“When it comes to essential medicines, we really need much more authority for governmental regulation to step in and sort of help to stabilize access to these particular medications, as well as many others.”
How to Seek Help
Beletsky noted that there are several steps people who need Adderall can take until the shortage clears up.
“I think it’s important to note that there are other alternatives in the pharmaceutical supply that are not in shortage,” he explained. “And so talk to your provider about what additional tools may be available, you know, other stimulants that you can […] try to kind of bridge the gap.”
“I think it’s also important to note that if you do turn to, you know, folks are turning to buying Adderall or other alternatives on the illicit market, it’s really important to test that supply, especially for fentanyl.”
For more information on obtaining test strips and other harm reduction tools, Beletsky recommended visiting Next Distro or finding your local harm reduction agency, which can be done on the National Harm Reduction Coalition website.
For those suffering the impact of the Adderall shortage, The Washington Post has a guide with helpful tips and ideas from professionals.