LAW & ORDER - Long-time politician Mark Ridley-Thomas was found guilty by a jury today of bribery in a scheme in which his son received substantial benefits from the University of Southern California in exchange for Ridley-Thomas’ political support for lucrative county contracts and contract amendments with the university while he served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Ridley-Thomas, 68, of Los Angeles, was found guilty of seven felonies: one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, one count of honest services mail fraud, and four counts of honest services wire fraud.
Ridley-Thomas’ political career spans several decades, including in the California State Legislature and, most recently, in the Los Angeles City Council. He was suspended in October 2021 from the Los Angeles City Council after being indicted in this case.
“When elected leaders engage in acts of corruption, our community suffers immense damage. Ridley-Thomas engaged in a corrupt conspiracy with a university dean to steer taxpayer-funded contracts to the school in exchange for benefits for his son,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “Today’s verdict sends a clear message to public officials that my office will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who abuse their power and thereby breach the public trust.”
“Public officials are elected to be a voice and a vote for the people they're paid to represent, not for their own personal gain,” said Donald Alway, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. “Allegations of public malfeasance must and will be addressed by the FBI before further corrupt actions erode confidence in our public institutions.”
According to evidence presented at a 16-day trial, from May 2017 to August 2018, Ridley-Thomas engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Marilyn Louise Flynn, 84, of Los Feliz, formerly a tenured professor and the dean of USC’s School of Social Work.
In December 2017, citing health issues, Ridley-Thomas’ son abruptly resigned from the California State Assembly. At the time of his resignation, Ridley-Thomas’ son was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation in the Assembly, a fact not known by either USC or the public. Emails and testimony at trial, prosecutors argued, showed that the reason given for the resignation was pretextual. Behind the scenes, Ridley-Thomas was orchestrating a public relations campaign to convince the public his son was ill, and a legal team was put in place to stall the Assembly’s investigation indefinitely. Prosecutors argued that the evidence at trial demonstrated that part of Ridley-Thomas’ public relations plan included finding his son prestigious degrees, titles, and paying jobs.
During the conspiracy’s course, Flynn ultimately provided Ridley-Thomas and his son benefits, including graduate school admission to pursue a dual master’s degree, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a mechanism for Ridley-Thomas to funnel $100,000 of his campaign funds through the university to a non-profit to be operated by the son – Policy, Research & Practice Initiative (PRPI).
In exchange, Ridley-Thomas supported contracts involving the Social Work School, including contracts to provide services to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health (DMH) that could help bring the school potentially millions of dollars in new revenue.
By funneling the payment through USC, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn attempted to disguise the true source of a $100,000 payment to make it appear as though USC, not Ridley-Thomas, was the generous benefactor supporting Ridley-Thomas’ son and PRPI. Had it known this fact, USC would not have approved the $100,000 payment.
For his part, Ridley-Thomas delivered on his end of the corrupt bargain. He voted on three county proposals that Flynn had sought to shore up her school’s shoddy financial situation – it faced a multimillion-dollar budget deficit – including a vote approving an amended Telehealth agreement with more lucrative terms for the Social Work School. He also sought to influence key county decisionmakers associated with these approvals and made sure Flynn knew of his efforts.
United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer scheduled an August 14 sentencing hearing, at which time Ridley-Thomas will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison on the conspiracy count, up to 10 years in federal prison for the bribery count, and up to 20 years in federal prison for each honest services fraud count.
Ridley-Thomas was found not guilty of one count of honest services mail fraud and 11 counts of honest services wire fraud.
Flynn pleaded guilty in September 2022 to one count of bribery. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 26. Flynn faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend she satisfy her custodial term by way of home confinement and have agreed to seek a fine against her of no more than $150,000.
The FBI investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson, Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas F. Rybarczyk and Michael J. Morse, also of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, are prosecuting this case.
(A release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California)