Marilyn Mosby’s perjury trial in federal court comes at a turning point for polarizing former Baltimore prosecutor

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A former elected official facing criminal charges, one who unexpectedly won their first election to the disbelief of the political establishment, one who is either beloved or despised because there’s not really any in between, will appear this week in court.

And even though prosecutors on the case once compared the defendant to Donald Trump, it isn’t him.

The onetime public official is former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and her perjury trial will start in the middle of the week at the federal courthouse in Prince George’s County.

Her trial’s substance is unlikely to match the roller coaster ride that was her last year in office. And another trial, one for mortgage fraud charges, likely awaits. But the start of the first trial represents the end of an up-and-down, nine-year course of a woman who went from a little-known Liberty Mutual insurance attorney to polarizing national figure.

The two-term elected prosecutor rocketed to prominence 8 1/2 years ago on the steps of Baltimore’s War Memorial Building. She announced charges against six police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, a Black man from West Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood who died from injuries suffered in custody.

The prosecutions, none of which ended in convictions, destroyed Mosby’s relationship with police. Her progressive doctrine, coupled with her rising celebrity, drew the censure of moderate and conservative Baltimoreans, as well as members of the local news media and the political establishment.

Her policies, lauded by progressive Democrats, made headlines across the country. She orchestrated an end to marijuana arrests and stopped prosecuting crimes like trespassing and prostitution out of concern they contributed to the mass incarceration of Black people. She maintained a list of Baltimore Police officers with integrity issues whose testimony could sink a prosecution.

Meanwhile, there were appearances on cable news, friendships with celebrities and music industry executives and big magazine stories. She even appeared on stage with Prince.

But Baltimore is a city rife with politicians and officials embroiled in criminal cases — Police Commissioner Darryl DeSousa’s failure to file his taxes, Mayor Sheila Dixon’s perjury plea, Police Commissioner Ed Norris’ spending of police funds on women who were not his wife, and Mayor Catherine Pugh’s conspiracy and tax evasion involving her children’s books.

Before her January 2022 indictment, Mosby and her estranged husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, had been in investigators’ crosshairs for some number of months. Nick Mosby, who is not charged with a crime, was the subject of an FBI visit to City Hall. Marilyn Mosby’s travel was the subject of a report from the city inspector general’s office, although Mosby had requested the investigation. And the couple was hit with a tax lien from the Internal Revenue Service.

Neither faced criminal charges for wrongdoing within the scope of their public offices.

When her indictment was revealed ahead of the July 2022 Democratic primary, Mosby was quick to proclaim her innocence. Her original defense attorney, A. Scott Bolden, accused the office of U.S. Attorney Erek Barron of a racist and politically motivated prosecution. Barron is Black and a Democrat.

“I remain confident that, once all the evidence is presented, that she will prevail against these bogus charges — charges that are rooted in personal, political and racial animus five months from her election,” Bolden said then.

Jury selection is to start Tuesday in Greenbelt, with the trial scheduled to begin Thursday. Mosby won a motion to have the case moved from Baltimore on the grounds that potential jurors drawn from that part of the state would hold less bias toward her.

At issue in court is whether she lied on two forms to get early access to funds in her city 457(b) retirement account to buy two Florida homes: an eight-bedroom vacation rental near Disney World and a two-bedroom condominium on the Gulf Coast. The perjury charges each carry a likely sentence of about 18 months if Mosby is convicted; she maintains her innocence.

People normally cannot access 457(b) accounts before retiring unless they stop working for the government or experience an “unforeseeable emergency.” But under the CARES Act, a pandemic relief bill, Congress loosened those rules temporarily. Government workers could draw those funds if they suffered adverse financial consequences as a result of the pandemic or if a business they owned closed or took a loss.

On May 26, 2020, Mosby checked a box on an online form, affirming that one of those conditions applied to her. She received a deposit in her bank account three days later. Mosby repeated the process in December 2020, getting another payout.

What’s clear is that Mosby did not lose any income because of the pandemic — her salary increased in 2020 compared to 2019 — meaning the trial will come down to the CARES Act’s provision for business losses.

Mosby’s attorneys, including Federal Public Defender Jim Wyda and Howard University law professor Lucius Outlaw, plan to argue Mosby qualified for the payments because she sunk money into a company she founded, Mahogany Elite Travel, and the pandemic prohibited it from getting off the ground. Wyda declined to comment for this article.

Prosecutors argue the business existed in name only and point to a series of statements Mosby made, either through spokespeople or personal attorneys, that suggest she never planned to operate any business while in office. Her second four-year term was to run through 2023 and there are no term limits on the office of state’s attorney.

The deciding factor may well be Mosby’s version of events as told under oath. It is likely the former state’s attorney will testify that she did plan to run the business earlier or, at least could have if the pandemic had not halted leisure travel.

Mosby’s initial legal defense was all offense: go public with allegations of an unfair prosecution and push for a trial as soon as possible, a way of signaling to political supporters she was innocent ahead of an expected reelection bid.

Eventually that push subsided, with her lawyers arguing for a continuance in April 2022 while also angling to get the case thrown out. They alleged in court papers that lead prosecutor Leo Wise was racist and had it out for Mosby. The judge rejected that idea, citing the absence of any evidence. Wise is white.

Wise was head of the U.S. attorney’s public corruption and fraud unit. It was he who once compared Mosby in court to Trump, saying her claims of vindictive prosecution and attacks on his credibility were a political ploy similar to those of the former Republican president.

“It’s all a plan to delegitimize anyone who has the temerity to question her behavior,” Wise said in court. “It’s just like what Trump did.”

He was demoted in March of this year after disagreements with Barron over the Mosby case and employee evaluations and will not prosecute Mosby’s case.

Many of Mosby’s friends and former colleagues declined to be interviewed, but those who did expressed the belief that federal prosecutors targeted a prominent Black politician who aimed to reform a system rooted in white supremacy.

“If you take any person and subject them to the full weight of municipal, state and federal government, I’m sure you could find where they have broken some law. The point of the criminal justice system is not to prosecute someone every time a law is broken. The point is to protect the public,” said the Rev. Kobi Little, who is president of the Baltimore NAACP.

Little said Mosby understood how the system was broken, and because she was not willing to take a back seat to the status quo of Baltimore politics, she made enemies by pointing out what was obvious to so many city residents.

“Ms. Mosby’s policies validated the lived experiences of so many Black people who had been subjected to police violence and terrorism,” Little said. “She didn’t act like it didn’t exist.”

Even her critics believe Mosby started her political career with great intentions. But community activist Kelly Davis said that as Mosby’s fame grew, so did her ego — and that led people to see her as arrogant. Davis rallied for years against Mosby’s repeated efforts to prosecute her husband, Keith Davis Jr., in a homicide case.

“You have to have a very strong moral code and a strong self-assurance to be able to grapple with that type of love and attention,” Davis said. “I’ve seen other people be like, ‘They love me out here.’ But Baltimore is fickle. If you don’t have that foundation, that grounding, it can get away from you. It became, ‘I have to hold onto this by any means necessary.’”

Mosby tried Davis Jr. four times for the killing. The feud between Mosby and Davis’ supporters became so contentious that a judge issued a gag order in the case and later held Mosby in contempt for violating it. Democratic State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, who took office in January, dismissed Davis’ charges and cited unlawful and vindictive conduct on Mosby’s part.

Perhaps the biggest shift for Mosby from when she was indicted to now is who she walks with. In an April 2022 video announcing her bid for a third term, set to the Kanye West song “Jesus Walks,” Mosby was joined by Nick, their two daughters and a battalion of supporters as they walked the Reservoir Hill street where the couple lived. The message was clear: Mosby had the support to withstand the onslaught.

Since then, Mosby lost the primary, has seen Bolden get in trouble with the judge and quit her case, filed for divorce, moved into a condo in Baltimore and hosted a women’s spirituality retreat in Jamaica. When she walked into court last week for a pretrial hearing, she did so with just her lawyers. Gone is the entourage of security, aides and videographers who captured her every step. Her divorce is expected to be final Tuesday.

In about two or three weeks, assuming the jury reaches a verdict, Mosby will get closer to whatever is next.

“After every storm comes the calm, and with it, the promise of new beginnings,” she captioned an Oct. 18 Instagram post. The post, a video that lasts a only a few seconds, shows a flock of gulls fly across a choppy sea toward the shore before turning the horizon.