Former state Del. Cheryl D. Glenn and her lawyer told a U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday that she accepted bribes from two businessmen and an “associate” not out of a thirst for the trappings of luxury, but because she needed money to fix a leaky roof on a modest home, dig out of debt and pay her mounting medical bills.
With her job and state pension gone and her reputation forever tarnished, home confinement would be the most appropriate punishment for the Baltimore City Democrat, defense attorney William C. Brennan Jr. argued, especially given the risks of sending a 69-year-old woman with multiple health conditions to federal prison during a pandemic.
“She was left with extreme financial hardship. She was a widow. She was alone, and she was in debt,” Brennan told the court prior to sentencing.
Judge Catherine C. Blake acknowledged “mitigating factors that clearly are present.” But she concluded nonetheless that the former lawmaker’s crimes required incarceration.
Blake then sentenced Glenn to two years in federal prison.
“Former Delegate Glenn sold her public office to pay her bills,” the judge said. “She knew it was wrong. She tried to cover it up.”
“This was not a one-time lapse,” Blake added. “It was not a momentary giving-in to temptation. It was a deliberate scheme to take advantage of her political power and to misuse her influence and to break the public trust in exchange for money.”
In her guilty plea, Glenn acknowledged accepting five payments totaling $33,750 in 2018 and 2019. The payoffs, some of which came from representatives of a company that was trying to secure a new medical marijuana license, were delivered just blocks from the State House in restaurants and vehicles.
Prosecutors alleged that the payments were a reward for legislation she pushed in the General Assembly promoting the fledgling medical cannabis industry. The government became aware of the scheme after the first payment and arranged for at least one of the people with whom Glenn was meeting to wear a wire. The government had video evidence as well.
The individuals Glenn interacted with and the firm involved have yet to be publicly identified.
In pressing for a three-year sentence, Assistant United States Attorney Leo J. Wise said Glenn’s actions “caused great harm” to the public’s trust in state government. And he noted that Maryland’s medical marijuana panel, the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission, is named for Glenn’s mother.
“Delegate Glenn sold her vote on a bill that literally had her mother’s name in it,” he told the judge.
Wise said that the former lawmaker’s actions undermined efforts to assist minority-owned and Maryland-based businesses, a cause she professed to embrace.
“And yet in that first meeting and the first bribe, the company that Del. Glenn took official acts to benefit was from out of state and owned by white men,” the prosecutor said.
Wise said that the federal prison sentences handed down in recent years to former Baltimore mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) and former state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore City) were insufficient to dissuade Glenn from accepting bribes, suggesting that home confinement would be a woefully inadequate sentence for her.
“Politicians in Maryland need to know that if they take bribes, they will be caught. And if they are caught they won’t just have to resign,” he said.
Remarkably, Wise tied the sentencing of Glenn to troubling events across the globe — and closer to home.
“Authoritarianism is on the rise in our world in places like Russia and Turkey and the Philippines and Hungary and even here,” he said. “And what that shows is how fragile democracy is.”
The sentencing hearing was held by video conference because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Glenn was in her attorney’s office, where she was joined by a daughter, granddaughter and grandson, a Washington, D.C. police officer, who spoke on her behalf.
Brennan said Glenn survived childhood homelessness, frequent moves, an abusive childhood and early marriage, and multiple medical conditions — yet she always took time to care for others. He said she was left destitute because her third husband, a Baltimore City labor leader who died unexpectedly six years ago, failed to update his life insurance policy, leaving the proceeds to others.
He provided Glenn’s medical records to the court as part of his push for home detention in lieu of prison.
“She is absolutely at high risk for contracting coronavirus and failing ill… [which] given her circumstances could very easily be a fatal illness,” he said.
When it was her turn to speak, the former lawmaker wept. She acknowledged that “for one year of my life out of a total of 69, I absolutely messed up and for that I am forever sorry.”
She said that she had long coached her children and grandchildren to have goals and do right, telling them, “We don’t do jail.” She said they would be “extremely negatively impacted” by her incarceration.
In sentencing Glenn to two years in prison, Blake noted that the former delegate demanded that one of the men who provided the bribe money sign a document falsely describing the payment as a loan.
“The factor of deterrence has got to be of great concern to the court,” she said. “The days of Maryland politicians soliciting envelopes stuffed with cash, or engaging in more sophisticated versions of the pay-to-play culture, should be long gone. But sadly they are not.”
First elected in 2006, Glenn represented Baltimore’s 45th District for 12 years. She is a former chairwoman of the city’s House delegation and the Legislative Black Caucus.
Blake ordered her to report to the Bureau of Prisons on Sept. 21.