Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the former dean of the USC School of Social Work have been indicted on federal corruption charges for an alleged bribery scheme stemming from the time that Ridley-Thomas served on the county Board of Supervisors, prosecutors announced today.
Democrat Ridley-Thomas is a fixture in local politics, having held office for the past 30 years as, in various ways, a Los Angeles city councilman, a member of the California State Assembly and Senate. and a Los Angeles County supervisor.
He is the third Los Angeles city councilman to face federal charges in the past two years. Former member José Huizar was arrested on extortion charges last year and has pleaded not guilty. Former councilman Mitchell Englander what sentenced in January to 14 months in federal prison for his conduct around obstruction of a public corruption investigation.
City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a mayoral candidate, quickly asked Ridley-Thomas to resign in light of the indictment. Buscaino said on Twitter that he is “shocked, saddened and disgusted” by the charges, which he says “tarnish the reputation of the entire Los Angeles City Council.”
City Council Speaker Nury Martinez said she was “disappointed” with the news, adding: “While the alleged crimes occurred while Mr. Ridley-Thomas was on the Board of Supervisors, these charges are serious and the Council should take appropriate action. “
It did not specify what action could potentially be taken. When Huizar was arrested, the council voted to suspend him, leaving its staff to serve as caretakers for the district.
Prosecutors contend that a relative of Ridley-Thomas received substantial benefits from the university in exchange for Ridley-Thomas supporting county contracts and lucrative contract amendments with the university while serving on the county board. USC is located in the Ridley-Thomas district, which includes Arlington Heights, Koreatown, Mid-City, Olympic Park, Palms, South Robertson, West Adams, West Pico, and Wilshire Center. He is also a graduate of the university, from which he received a doctorate in social ethics.
The 20-count indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court alleges that Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn to provide the relative: reportedly, your child, with admission to graduate school, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a mechanism to channel Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to a non-profit organization that will be operated by The familiar.
An attorney for the councilman said at the time the case was referred to federal prosecutors that he did not believe it raised “any legal or ethical issues,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We don’t think any legal or ethical issues will arise, and it had nothing to do with his son’s college scholarship or employment,” said attorney Stephen Kaufman.
“This indictment charges a seasoned legislator with allegedly abusing the public trust by taking official action to benefit himself and his family member,” Acting US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. “The corrupt activities alleged in the indictment were facilitated by a high-ranking administrator of a major university whose desire for funding apparently exceeded notions of integrity and fair play. Public corruption cases are among the most important issues we pursue, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute whenever public officials and others entrusted with taxpayer funds violate the law. “
The indictment describes an alleged scheme in 2017 and 2018 in which then-supervisor Ridley-Thomas sought benefits from Flynn and university officials to benefit his relative, who was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation in the State Assembly. , who would likely resign from elected office. office and significantly in debt.
The prosecution did not name the relative, however, Ridley-Thomas’ son Sebastian resigned from the Assembly in 2017 amid investigations into allegations of sexual harassment. He insisted at the time that his resignation was due to health reasons, not a sexual harassment investigation. Sebastian Ridley-Thomas later became a professor of social work and public policy at USC, despite not having a graduate degree. He was later fired due to questions about his original appointment and concerns from the university about the $ 100,000 assigned to him.
donated from his father’s campaign funds to the School of Social Work, then
addressed to the Sebastian Ridley-Thomas non-profit organization.
Prosecutors say Mark Ridley-Thomas wanted to secure gainful employment for his son to minimize the public consequences for both of them following the son’s sudden resignation from office. Meanwhile, the School of Social Work faced a multi-million dollar budget deficit, which threatened the viability of the school, as well as Flynn’s position and reputation as the school’s longtime dean, according to the indictment.
As part of the bribery scheme, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn allegedly took steps “to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes, kickbacks, and other benefits” that Ridley-Thomas and her relative received, which included concealing the official acts that Ridley-Thomas agreed. perform in exchange for economic benefits, according to the document.
The couple also concealed, according to the indictment, the true purpose of the $ 100,000 channeled to the relative’s nonprofit through the university, which also violated multiple university policies regarding nonprofit funding, they said. The prosecutors.
Within weeks of Ridley-Thomas contacting Flynn in May 2017 about his relative wanting a graduate degree from college, Flynn began a campaign to secure college admission and a full scholarship for the relative. prosecutors allege.
Flynn wrote in an email that he intended to open all doors for the family member, the indictment alleges. When a university official said that Ridley-Thomas had “a lot of discretionary money” and that he should give the university “$ 1 million every year for three years,” according to the indictment, Flynn responded that
she and another university official intended to offer the relative a full scholarship in exchange for school funds.
In June 2017, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn allegedly reached an agreement, which Flynn later recalled in a confidential letter that he personally delivered to Ridley-Thomas, prosecutors said. The indictment alleges that Flynn’s letter detailed his expectations that Ridley-Thomas would direct new DCFS contracts and parole to the School of Social Work and secure a lucrative amendment to an existing Telehealth-DMH contract.
With the new amendment, Flynn expected the telehealth contract to generate about $ 9 million per year for the School of Social Work, prosecutors say.
The indictment alleges that Ridley-Thomas took a number of official actions, including voting in August 2017 to approve a motion to establish a partnership between the county and the School of Social Work, and voting in October 2017 to approve a motion, related to “Probation University,” that would create a county payment source for the school.
Flynn told university officials in emails that he was “very happy to see that [Ridley-Thomas] it was as good as his word ”and that he was“ really trying to deliver, ”the indictment alleges.
The conspiracy charge alleged in the indictment carries a sentence of up to five years in federal prison. Each charge of bribery carries a maximum possible sentence of 10 years. Each of the mail and wire fraud charges carries a fine of up to 20 years.
City News Service contributed to this report.