BALTIMORE — Former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was convicted Thursday of lying about suffering financial hardship during the coronavirus to take money from her retirement savings in order to buy a pair of properties in Florida worth $1 million.
After deliberating for about five hours, a federal jury found Mosby guilty of two counts of perjury.
The jury’s verdict means Mosby, who served two terms as Baltimore’s chief prosecutor, faces up to 10 years in prison at sentencing, which has not been scheduled. Though it’s unlikely a judge would impose the maximum punishment for Mosby, the conviction all but ensures she’ll be stripped of her law license.
In court, Mosby looked at each juror as they filed into the room in Greenbelt. When a courtroom deputy announced the guilty verdict, her eyes began to blink more rapidly.
“I’m blessed,” Mosby said as she walked away from the courthouse. “I have nothing more to say.”
Her defense lawyers declined to comment on the verdict.
Federal prosecutors haven’t officially signaled whether they intend to proceed on the related mortgage fraud charges Mosby faces.
Despite Mosby’s cries of foul play by prosecutors from the time of her indictment, rulings won by her defense lawyers ensured she got a fair shake, said Andrew I. Alperstein, an attorney and former prosecutor who is not involved in Mosby’s case. Alperstein specifically highlighted the defense’s bid to have the case moved from Baltimore to Greenbelt and to have her mortgage fraud charges severed from the perjury counts.
“She got her fair trial and, unless something were to overturn this on appeal, she has been found guilty and the justice system has played its process,” Alperstein said.
With Thursday’s convictions, Mosby joins a list of Baltimore officials being caught committing crimes, with the former state’s attorney following in the footsteps of former mayors Catherine Pugh and Sheila Dixon, as well as police commissioners Darryl De Sousa and Ed Norris.
In Mosby’s case, prosecutors said she lied about experiencing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic to obtain two withdrawals from her city retirement savings account under a provision of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron said the conviction reflected his office’s commitment to “uphold the rule of law, keep our country safe, protect the civil rights of all Americans, and safeguard public property.”
Indicted in January 2022, Mosby also charged is with two counts of mortgage fraud, each of which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
She used the roughly $80,000 from two withdrawals from her retirement savings accounts to close on two Florida vacation properties worth a combined $1 million, but prosecutors say she misled mortgage lenders by failing to disclose tax debts and claiming one property, an eight-bedroom house near Disney World, was a second home, when she already had hired a company to run it as a rental.
During the three days of trial this week, Mosby’s personal finances came under the microscope.
Federal prosecutors portrayed Mosby as a greedy public official who took advantage of a law, intended to help those suffering from the pandemic, to enrich herself.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told jurors Mosby behaved as if “telling the truth didn’t matter.”
“We should not allow Ms. Mosby to lie under oath regardless of her position,” said Zelinsky, adding that she didn’t have a right to her retirement funds until she quit, retired or was otherwise eligible to withdraw them. “We should not allow her lies and perjury to allow her to purchase $1 million in Florida homes” during what he described as one of the “worst” public health crises in history.
Mosby’s lawyers said she qualified under the ambiguous pandemic relief guidelines because COVID-19 prevented a portfolio of personal businesses she started while in office from getting off the ground.
To convict her of perjury, the jury had to find that Mosby did not suffer an “adverse financial consequence,” which was defined for jurors as a “negative outcome related to money,” and didn’t qualify for CARES Act withdrawals as a result. They also had to determine that Mosby lied when she checked a box on the withdrawal form, rather than making a mistake.
The government’s case against Mosby consisted of three witnesses and scores of documents, with an FBI forensic accountant’s testimony taking up the bulk of the time.
The accountant, Jenna Bender, spent hours testifying about what she found when she pored over Mosby’s financial records.
Mosby began looking for real estate in the spring of 2020, starting with homes in the Baltimore area before shifting her search to Florida. She told a real estate agent that she wanted to “capitalize on the uncertainty of the market,” expressing an interest in multi-family dwellings.
Though she had shared a home with her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, her attorneys said she wanted to secure an asset in her name and set herself up for long-term financial security. Earlier this year, she filed for “a limited divorce” — essentially a legal separation — from Nick Mosby.
Marilyn Mosby’s 2020 home search came as the nascent pandemic began ravaging America. As employees under her at the state’s attorney’s office experienced coronavirus furloughs, Mosby maintained her approximately $250,000 salary. Still, she was short of closing costs for the two properties in Florida she eventually homed in on: the house near Disney World and a condo on the state’s Gulf Coast.
Bender said Mosby couldn’t have afforded the properties without taking the money she obtained from her CARES Act withdrawals.
The accountant’s testimony also seemed to undercut the defense’s theory of the case, as she found alternative explanations for many of the expenses Mosby counted as costs of operating her businesses. In fact, Bender testified, Mosby appears to have counted many expenses she incurred in her personal life and while working in her capacity as state’s attorney as business costs.
Mosby’s business, Zelinsky told the jury, “produced no income. It had no customers. It had no records.”
But Federal Public Defender James Wyda, one of Mosby’s lawyers, highlighted testimony showing Mosby spent several hundred dollars on the businesses, which were incorporated under the holding company Mahogany Elite Enterprises, and included Mahogany Elite Travel. For the businesses, she purchased a website, a Microsoft email account and paid a tax professional for advice.
“Let them belittle the size and magnitude of the loss of Mahogany Travel,” Wyda said of the prosecution in closing. “The chief administrator of the retirement program for Baltimore City said you could qualify for relief if you experienced a loss of $50.”
The prosecution drew attention to Mosby’s purchase of vacation homes as evidence that she hadn’t suffered financial hardship. But, as Wyda noted, the CARES Act placed no limit, regulation or guidelines on how someone could spend their withdrawal money.
“If Ms. Mosby qualified, she could spend the money however she liked,” Wyda told the jury. “We may not like it, but it’s not a crime.”
The elements of perjury in part hinge on what the person charged was thinking at the time they certified the statement under oath. Jurors are allowed to draw inferences from the person’s actions.
Lawyers spent time before trial arguing over the scope of questioning if Mosby chose to testify, with U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby ruling prosecutors couldn’t ask her about the mortgage fraud charges. Still, Mosby’s attorneys requested more time Tuesday afternoon to advise her about whether to take the witness stand.
Prosecutors offered a preview of what they planned to probe her about, a list of issues including her apparent tax impropriety, the fact that she was held in contempt of court in a separate state case and that she seems to have lied in a letter to mortgage brokers about having lived in Florida for 60 days to secure a lower, second home interest rate on the eight-bedroom house.
Mosby chose not to testify, leaving prosecutors to highlight her actions in drawing conclusions about her intent.
“She did it because she wanted the money for the houses. That’s why she took it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Delaney told jurors in closing. “She wanted it and that’s why she did it. She didn’t care if she had to commit perjury.”
(Baltimore Sun multimedia editor and videographer Kevin Richardson contributed to this article.)
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