GREENBELT, Md. — There is no dispute that former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby obtained roughly $80,000 from her city retirement account by certifying, under the penalties of perjury, that she suffered financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nor is there any doubt about how Mosby spent the money from separate withdrawals disbursed to her while COVID-19 raged around much of the world: She paid the closing costs on a pair of properties in Florida worth up to $1 million combined.
The question before a federal jury in Greenbelt tasked with deciding whether Mosby is guilty of perjury is whether she actually suffered the financial troubles she claimed to have experienced because of the coronavirus and, if she did not, whether she lied to make herself eligible for the withdrawals under Congress’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
After three days of testimony and argument from attorneys, the jury received the case Wednesday afternoon and were released for the day. Jurors will begin deliberating in earnest Thursday morning.
Their decision will bring to a conclusion the highly anticipated trial of Mosby, who served two terms as Baltimore’s top prosecutor. The case drew scores of reporters and several of Mosby’s supporters to the federal courthouse in Prince George’s County.
In closing arguments Wednesday, federal prosecutors painted a portrait of a greedy public official who took advantage of a law intended to help suffering Americans to enrich herself.
“We should not allow Ms. Mosby to lie under oath regardless of her position,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told the jury, highlighting an instruction from the judge establishing that the law considered the money in Mosby’s retirement account as the property of her employer, the City of Baltimore, until she was eligible to withdraw it.
“We should not allow her lies and perjury,” Zelinsky continued, “to allow her to purchase $1 million in Florida homes,” during one of the worst public health crises in history.
Mosby’s lawyers contend she was eligible for the withdrawals because a portfolio of personal travel businesses she incorporated while in office were “devastated” during the pandemic. They noted that any financial hardship was enough to qualify for pandemic relief, and Congress set no limits on how someone could spend the money they received under the CARES Act.
“If Ms. Mosby qualified, she could spend the money however she liked,” Federal Public Defender James Wyda told jurors. “We may not like it, but it’s not a crime.”
The three-day trial placed Mosby’s finances under the microscope, while providing a limited lens into her personal life while in office.
Mosby maintained her salary, which increased year over year to almost $250,000 in 2020, while much of her staff at the state’s attorney’s office was impacted by furloughs during the pandemic.
In the spring of 2020, Mosby texted a realtor in Baltimore to “capitalize on the uncertainty of the market right now.” She asked for listings of multi-family dwellings, embarking on a months-long search for real estate that shifted from Maryland to Florida and led her that summer to a house near Disney World and, by the end of the year, to a condo on the state’s Gulf Coast.
Mosby didn’t have enough money for either vacation property.
Thousands of dollars short on closing costs, Mosby turned to the administrator of her city retirement savings account, Nationwide. She inquired about taking a withdrawal.
“I’m trying to close on a house,” Mosby began a call with a Nationwide representative, about two weeks before she paid for the first house, an eight-bedroom in Kissimmee, Florida, in September 2020. She asked “what I would qualify for,” inquired about coronavirus relief options and asked for information about the possibilities in writing.
She reached out to Nationwide again days before the CARES Act provision allowing early retirement withdrawals of up to $100,000 for those eligible ended, on Dec. 31.
“I need to figure out how to get the money,” Mosby said in another recorded call played at her trial. She ended up closing on the condo in Longboat Key early in 2021.
Indicted in January 2022, Mosby is charged with two counts of perjury, which were related to the CARES Act withdrawals, and two counts of mortgage fraud. Prosecutors say Mosby duped mortgage lenders in Florida by neglecting to disclose her tax debts and signing a document saying she intended the house near Disney World as a second home, when she already lined up a company to run it as a rental.
Defense lawyers won a legal battle to have her tried separately for perjury and mortgage fraud. They also successfully argued to move the case from the federal courthouse in Baltimore to the one in Greenbelt.
Mosby’s eight-year run as state’s attorney concluded in January following an unsuccessful bid for a third term, a campaign clouded by her indictment.
Jenna Bender, a forensic accountant with the FBI, testified that Mosby couldn’t have paid closing costs for either home without the CARES Act withdrawals. Bender’s testimony accounted for much of the government’s case, with prosecutors leafing through Mosby’s financial records page by page with the accountant in the witness box.
Bender said she reviewed Mosby’s bank and credit card statements, along with public financial disclosures and business records obtained by way of subpoena.
Mosby’s defense centered on a trio of businesses incorporated under the holding company Mahogany Elite Enterprises.
Although Mosby publicly stated the businesses were inoperable, her attorneys said she sunk hundreds of dollars into the companies, which she organized before the pandemic, and that they never got off the ground because of the coronavirus.
An April 2019 trip to Jamaica inspired the businesses, testified Shelonda Stokes, a business executive who is friends with Mosby and traveled with her. Stokes, who is president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, described the vacation as transformative, saying the friends left determined to start a company that offered similarly “restorative” experiences to other successful Black women.
Stokes said Mosby started the business on her own when they returned to Baltimore. Mosby’s description shifted with time, as she said it was intended to provide underserved Black families with opportunities to vacation in places they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.
Lindsay “Zy” Richardson, who served as the state’s attorney’s office spokesperson during Mosby’s second term, testified about advising Mosby that having a side business while in office was “bad politics.” When reporters started asking questions, Richardson recalled in court, she suggested Mosby release a statement saying she had no plans to operate the business while serving as an elected official.
Mosby chose not to testify, putting her decision on the record Wednesday morning. Her decision came hours after prosecutors offered a preview about the type of tough questions they planned to ask her if she took the witness stand, including probes about apparent tax impropriety, and the fact that she was held in contempt of court in a separate case.
Bender compared Mosby’s company and personal finances, finding the state’s attorney counted expenses she incurred in her personal life or while acting in her capacity as the city’s top prosecutor as costs of operating the allegedly inoperable businesses she incorporated while in office.
Mosby used those expenses to earn a $5,000 deduction from her taxes in 2020. As such, Bender testified, Mosby actually benefited from the companies in 2020 — when she made the CARES Act withdrawals — rather than experiencing losses.
Prosecutors said Mahogany Elite ”was a company with no plans to operate,” citing statements Mosby made to the media in 2020, when she said that she had no intention to run the business while in office.
“It produced no income. It had no customers. It had no records,” Zelinsky told the jury.
Wyda countered that the CARES Act provided few guidelines about what constituted an “adverse financial consequence” Mosby swore she experienced to access retirement funds.
One “adverse financial consequence” spelled out in the legislation was the closing or reduction of hours of someone’s business, but, Wyda said, there were no precise definitions of what that meant, leaving people like Mosby to decide for themselves whether they qualified.
“This case is about a three-page form, and what was on Marilyn Mosby’s mind when she filled it out,” he told the jury. “Marilyn Mosby got it right. But even if she didn’t, if you think she got it wrong, if you think her women’s retreat business didn’t experience an adverse financial consequence, it’s not a crime. It’s a mistake.”