Hours after federal prosecutors claimed that City Council President Nick Mosby repeatedly committed perjury on his tax returns during the mortgage fraud trial of his now ex-wife, the official returned from U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to lead a Baltimore City Council meeting.
But while Mosby put on a business-as-usual front, his political future seems anything but.
On Monday, after testimony from Mosby, Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky told the judge that Mosby committed perjury on his tax returns for claiming tens of thousands of dollars in charitable donations that he could not possibly afford.
A spokesman for Mosby did not return a request for comment.
With the city’s Democratic primaries just four months away, the government’s claims cloud Mosby’s reelection campaign. The incumbent faces Councilman Zeke Cohen and former Councilwoman Shannon Sneed and early polling suggests a competitive race.
As City Council President, Mosby is the chief legislator among his 14 colleagues representing districts throughout Baltimore. He appoints committee chairs and members and helps decide which bills move through the legislative process. Mosby also chairs the city’s spending board where a majority of the members are chosen by the mayor.
None of the 14 council members responded to requests for comment from The Banner about the courtroom proceedings. One member, requesting anonymity because of the possibility of retaliation, pointed to the power Mosby holds over the council’s pending legislation.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s much chance that the council president will be reelected,” they said. “But considering the council president’s power over council members, it’s unlikely any will go on the record telling you how embarrassing this is.”
Though Mosby said last year he would seek reelection, he has yet to file paperwork for another run with elections officials. The deadline for doing so is Feb. 9. His website is inactive. His campaign does not have an ActBlue account, perhaps the most powerful fundraising tool for Democratic candidates and used by Cohen, Mayor Brandon Scott and most council members.
But in the six weeks leading up to a recent campaign finance deadline, Mosby fundraised aggressively, raising nearly $200,000.
The City Council president has not been charged with a crime. Zelinsky has offered no explanation as to why. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. Mosby is not expected to provide any more testimony during the trial.
The U.S. government alleges, in part, that former Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby failed to disclose the existence of a more than $45,000 tax lien or that she and her ex-husband owed the IRS taxes on mortgage applications for a house and a condominium in Florida.
While Nick Mosby was claiming the charity deductions, he was also having his wages garnished over delinquent student loans and his car was repossessed, Zelinsky told the judge. The prosecutor said Mosby had fallen behind in his mortgage payments, too. Zelinsky said the government’s financial analyst could testify that there had not been enough money in the Mosby bank accounts to make those donations. Nick Mosby claimed to have given $21,000 to charity in tax year 2014 alone.
Are federal prosecutors planning to charge Mosby?
State and federal prosecutors consider many factors when deciding whether to file criminal charges against someone over their tax returns. For one, prosecutors would need the evidence to convince a judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant made the erroneous tax filing willfully; it’s not a crime to make a mistake.
In 2018, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa pleaded guilty to failing to file his federal tax returns. The evidence in his case was clear. De Sousa admitted with his guilty plea to claiming deductions that he obviously wasn’t entitled to, such as a mortgage interest deduction when he had no mortgage and owned no property.
The amount of money at issue in his case was about $67,000. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
”There are all kinds of factors that go into determining whether you want to bring a case. How serious it is, how much money is involved, what the deterrent effects of the prosecution are,” said Strider Dickson, a former federal prosecutor in Florida and assistant attorney general in Maryland.
Now of the law firm McAllister, DeTar, Showalter, & Walker LLC, Dickson prosecuted tax fraud and public corruption cases at the attorney general’s office. He’s not involved in the Mosby case.
Zelinsky told the judge that Nick Mosby falsely claimed tens of thousands of dollars in charitable donations — not the hundreds of thousands of dollars often at stake in federal tax cases.
“At the federal level, you’re going to see much bigger dollar amounts because there are limited resources and you can’t go after every fraud that you find,” Dickson said. “They’re not going to want to spend two years investigating a case that there’s $50,000 in fraud, unless something else is going on.”
There is a mechanism in place for removing elected officials. According to council rules, at least 12 out of 15 members of the council must vote to remove the council president, a council member, or comptroller. The city charter also says that council members may remove a council president, a council member, or comptroller because of incompetency, misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, or felony or misdemeanor in office with a supermajority vote.
In 2019, after former mayor Catherine Pugh resigned in the midst of a corruption scandal, the City Council passed a series of bills intended to make City Hall more transparent — including a charter amendment that would allow the council to vote to remove the mayor. Voters approved the measure on the ballot, but the council has yet to introduce a separate required law that would establish a process for doing so.
The Democratic primary, which is tantamount to winning in November in deep-blue Baltimore, is May 14.