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Former University of Southern California dean pleads guilty in political corruption case

LOS ANGELES — A former dean of the University of Southern California pleaded guilty Monday in a bribery case involving a powerful Los Angeles politician who promised to help run a multi-million contract at the school if his son got a scholarship and a teaching job.

Marilyn Flynn, 83, served as dean of USC’s School of Social Work from 1997 to 2018. In her plea deal with federal prosecutors, Flynn said she arranged for $100,000 to be illegally funneled on behalf of Mark Ridley-Thomas in 2018, while on the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Flynn and Ridley-Thomas, who now serve on the Los Angeles City Council, were indicted last year in the public corruption case. Ridley-Thomas is due to stand trial in November for fraud, bribery and conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty last October, just hours after his colleagues suspended him and the city comptroller cut his salary.

Federal prosecutors say Mark Ridley-Thomas offered to back a lucrative amendment to a county contract for USC’s school of social work — which had a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall — in exchange for the help from his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

Flynn promised to provide a full scholarship and paid chair, and concocted a plan to funnel $100,000 that Ridley-Thomas provided campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit run by his son, prosecutors alleged.

Mark Ridley-Thomas at the reopening of Leimert Park, in Los Angeles, California on June 19, 2021. Ted Soqui / Sipa USA via AP File

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was a state assemblyman who resigned on the last day of 2017 as he faced allegations that he made an unwanted sexual advance to a Capitol staffer. The $100,000 went to his organization, known as the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative.

He then received a $26,000 scholarship for 2018 and was offered a paid teaching position with a salary of $50,000, even though being a student and teaching would violate school policy, authorities said. .

“Ridley-Thomas reportedly wanted to help secure gainful employment for his relative to minimize the public fallout for both of them following the sudden resignation from office,” according to a statement from a US attorney’s office last year. .

Flynn, who could have faced up to 10 years in federal prison, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery. Under the plea deal, prosecutors will recommend home confinement rather than jail for Flynn and a maximum fine of $150,000 when she is sentenced next March.

USC was not charged with wrongdoing in the criminal case, but it further tarnished the school’s elite image, already battered by a series of scandals.

USC was one of the universities involved in an admissions cheating scandal in which wealthy parents sought to get their undeserving offspring into college by falsely portraying them as star athletes. Dozens of parents and sports coaches across the country have been charged and more than 50 people have been convicted in the “Operation Varsity Blues” case. They include TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

Last year, USC agreed to an $852 million settlement with more than 700 women who accused the longtime campus gynecologist of sexual abuse. It was believed to be a record amount for such a lawsuit. When combined with an earlier settlement of a separate class action lawsuit, USC agreed to pay more than $1 billion for claims against Dr. George Tyndall, who worked at the school for nearly three decades.


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