Longtime Los Angeles politician convicted of bribery to secure scholarship and teaching job for his son
A longtime Los Angeles politician was convicted on Thursday of federal bribery charges in a scheme in which prosecutors said he promised to help run a multimillion-dollar government contract with the University from Southern California if her son got a scholarship and a teaching job.
Former Democratic City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas — a former lawmaker, county supervisor and a staple of local politics for decades — was found guilty in U.S. District Court of seven felonies, including conspiracy, bribery and fraud.
The jury verdict marked a stunning fall for a once-dominant figure in Los Angeles County politics, known for his involvement in civil rights and racial issues.
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Marilyn Flynn, who served as dean of USC’s School of Social Work from 1997 to 2018, pleaded guilty last year to one count of corruption in the case. Prosecutors said that as part of the conspiracy, she concocted a scheme to funnel $100,000 that Ridley-Thomas provided campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit run by her son.
“When elected leaders engage in corrupt acts, our community suffers immense damage. Ridley-Thomas engaged in a corrupt plot with a college dean to direct taxpayer-funded contracts to the school in exchange for benefits for his son,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said. said in a statement.
Ridley-Thomas, then county supervisor, offered to support county contracts for USC’s school of social work that could potentially earn the institution millions of dollars in new revenue in exchange for help from her son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, according to prosecutors. At the time, the school had a budget deficit of several million dollars.
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 towards a Capitol staffer. The $100,000 went to his organization, known as the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative, prosecutors said.
The son then received a $26,000 graduate 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.
The Los Angeles City Council suspended Mark Ridley-Thomas in October 2021, shortly after he was charged in the case. Along with his felony conviction, Council Speaker Paul Krekorian said in a statement that the seat was vacant under municipal law.
Krekorian said he was appointing Councilman Heather Hutt as seat custodian, who had previously been appointed to temporarily fill the position after Ridely-Thomas was suspended. Krekorian said he would urge the board at its next meeting to appoint Hutt to fill the position for the remainder of Ridley-Thomas’ term.
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Ridley-Thomas, who has denied any wrongdoing, left the courthouse after the verdict without speaking to reporters. A representative for his defense team told the Los Angeles Times that he would appeal.
He will be sentenced in August.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, a longtime friend and political ally, called the verdict “a sad day for Los Angeles.”
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.
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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.
In 2021, 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 the doctor, who worked at the school for nearly three decades.