Marilyn Mosby – who at first demanded a speedy trial, then succeeded three times in delaying it – has wound up with a court proceeding that concluded much quicker than anyone expected.
After three days of testimony, the case was sent late yesterday to the jury, with instructions by U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby to come back this morning to begin deliberating on Mosby’s fate.
Prosecutors took a little over a day to make their case that Baltimore’s former state’s attorney committed perjury by lying on a legal form in order to get early access to retirement funds.
The defense spent less than a day trying to rebut the charges – in part because Mosby elected not to take the stand after prosecutors said they would delve into her allegedly fraudulent tax deductions and ask other embarrassing questions on cross-examination.
During yesterday’s closing arguments, the two sides painted wildly different pictures of the obscure LLCs that Mosby created in 2019 and said suffered losses during the 2020 pandemic, justifying her claim of Covid-related financial hardship in order to withdraw money she used to buy two Florida properties.
“You heard from Shelonda Stokes about how this all began, Mahogany Elite,” said defense attorney James Wyda, referencing the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore president who testified on behalf of Mosby.
“It starts when Marilyn Mosby and Ms. Stokes took a transformative trip together on four nights in April 2019,” he said.
“The magical trip” inspired them to brainstorm about a business that offered restorative retreats for professional women of color, he said.
With no revenue, clients, emails, business cards or business plan, “does that sound like an open and operable business to you?” – Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky.
But prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky told jurors there was “no evidence presented at trial that this was the purpose of Mahogany Elite Travel,” one of three related LLCs that Mosby formed on May 29, 2019.
Asked by a federal subpoena to provide materials showing that Mahogany Elite indeed existed, Mosby sent nothing back, Zelinsky said.
“We know that Mahogany Elite has no business cards. We know that Mahogany Elite has no letterhead. We know that Mahogany Elite has no revenue. We know that Mahogany Elite has no emails. We know that Mahogany Elite has no vendors. We know that Mahogany Elite has no notes. We know that Mahogany Elite has no business plan,” he said.
Prosecutors also noted that Mosby’s confidante, Stokes, when asked on the stand if she knew the purpose of Mahogany Elite, replied, “The stated purpose? No, I do not.”
“Use your common sense,” Zelinsky asked the jury. “Does that sound like an open and operable business to you?”
“She did the best she could”
Wyda told jurors that Mosby’s companies were legitimate, citing a $315 filing fee she paid to register the Mahogany Elite entities with the State of Maryland and $144 to GoDaddy for a domain name and email.
The reason the enterprise never went further was Covid, according to Wyda. “For Miss Mosby, the pandemic meant the crashing of her dreams of putting on retreats to empower and sustain women.”
The form she filled out to qualify for her Covid-related cash withdrawal, he said, was too vague to prove that she knowingly lied about her businesses. He said the CARES Act provided few guidelines for what constituted “an adverse financial consequence” or “the closing or reduction of hours” of a business.
“For Miss Mosby, the pandemic meant the crashing of her dreams of putting on retreats to empower and sustain women” – Defense attorney James Wyda.
“None of the key terms were defined,” he said. “She did the best she could. She concluded she qualified.”
“If you think she got it wrong,” Wyda continued, “if you think her women’s retreat business didn’t experience an adverse financial consequence, it’s not a crime. It’s a mistake.”
2020 Statement to The Brew
Prosecutors, meanwhile, cited Mosby’s own statements about Mahogany Elite to The Brew in July 2020. In those statements, relayed by Mosby’s spokeswoman, Zy Richardson, reported that “there are no clients and she has not received a single cent in revenue” from Mahogany Elite.
The email further said that Mosby had “no plans to operate the company while she is state’s attorney.”
The email described Mahogany Elite as a travel company “to help underserved Black families who don’t usually have the opportunity to travel outside of urban cities, so they can vacation at various destinations throughout the world at discount prices.”
According to Wyda, the email to The Brew was produced after “a political challenge arose – a local news app began asking questions about the businesses.”
He said Mosby’s promise not to operate the business until she was out of office was done “for the good of her office, and its mission that was so important to her.”
The other prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Delaney, dismissed Wyda’s assertions about the role of politics and addressing media inquiries:
“You hear Mr. Wyda talk about [how] Covid devastated her business. The government’s response: What business?”
Cancun Trip Deductions
Zelinsky argued that hard evidence that might have verified that Mahogany Elite was a legitimate business, including the tax deductions Mosby took for the entity, only served to undermine that notion.
He pointed to Nick and Marilyn Mosby’s nearly $800-a-night stay at the Excellence Resort Cancun in Mexico, one of the expenses listed on her 2019 tax filings as a Mahogany Elite deduction.
“Use your common sense: does an $800-a-night, adults-only resort seem like the kind of place where you would go if you are trying to negotiate a deal for underserved black families?” Zelinsky said.
He also pointed to the expenses charged to Mahogany Elite for a trip that Mosby took with her daughters to her home town of Boston and a family road trip to Florida.
“Anyone who has taken a family road trip knows that is not a place for women’s relaxation,” Delaney observed.
“Mahogany Elite Travel is exactly what it looks like – these are Ms. Mosby’s personal trips,” Zelinsky added.
“Does an $800-a-night, adults-only resort seem like the kind of place where you would go if you are trying to negotiate a deal for underserved black families?” – Assistant U.S. Attorney Zelinsky.
Referencing the Cancun trip, Wyda reminded the jury that “Mr. Zelinsky is not a tax expert” and argued such an expense could be legitimate.
“If you’re trying to take professional women to a nice place to gather together and have a magical time that is relaxing and restorative maybe you go to Cancun and maybe that would be a business expense,” he said.
“She didn’t care”
Wyda reminded the jury that the prosecution needed to prove that the defendant “knowingly and intentionally lied,” adding “that, they cannot do.”
He said Mosby did her best to determine whether she was eligible for the fund withdrawals, pointing to “the five calls she made to Nationwide,” the retirement plan administrator.
But prosecutors, highlighting the calls jurors heard played in court, described Mosby citing specific provisions of the CARES Act as she pushed a succession of managers who were told her she was filing too late to make the deadline.
They referenced the box Mosby checked to get the money that said: “Adverse financial consequences from a business you operate or own.”
“It does not take a law degree to understand those words, but, that’s right, we’re not talking about any old person here,” Delaney said.
“We’re talking about someone who has a law degree from Boston College Law School. And she just happens to be the state’s attorney from the biggest city in Maryland.
“Ms. Mosby was perfectly capable of drawing her own conclusions,” he continued. “She did it because she wanted the money for the houses. . . and that was the only way she could get it. She didn’t care if she had to commit perjury to do it.”