Longtime Los Angeles politician found guilty of corruption to get his son a scholarship, teaching job
A longtime Los Angeles politician was convicted Thursday on federal corruption charges in a scheme in which prosecutors said he promised to help steer a multimillion-dollar government contract to the University of Southern California if his son got a scholarship and a teaching job.
Former Democratic City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas — a one-time legislator, county supervisor and a fixture in local politics for decades — was found guilty in U.S. District Court of seven felonies, including conspiracy, bribery and fraud.
The jury’s verdict marked a stunning fall for a once-commanding figure in Los Angeles County politics known for his involvement in civil rights and racial issues.
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Marilyn Flynn, who was dean of USC’s School of Social Work from 1997 to 2018, pleaded guilty last year to one count of bribery in the case. Prosecutors said that as part of the plot, she concocted a scheme to funnel $100,000 that Ridley-Thomas provided from campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit run by his son.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement.
Ridley-Thomas, then a county supervisor, offered to support county contracts for USC’s School of Social Work that could potentially bring the institution millions of dollars in new revenue in return for helping his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, according to prosecutors. At the time, the school had a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was a state assemblyman who resigned the last day of 2017 while facing allegations that he made an unwanted sexual advance toward a Capitol staffer. The $100,000 went to his organization, known as the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative, prosecutors said.
The son later received a $26,000 graduate scholarship for 2018 and was offered a paid teaching position with a $50,000 salary, even though being a student and a teacher 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. With his conviction on felony charges, Council President Paul Krekorian said in a statement the seat was vacant under city law.
Krekorian said he was appointing Councilwoman Heather Hutt as a caretaker of the seat, who earlier had been named to temporarily fill the post after Ridely-Thomas was suspended. Krekorian said he would urge the council at its next meting to appoint Hutt to hold the office for the remainder of Ridley-Thomas’ term.
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Ridley-Thomas, who denied 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 wasn’t accused of 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 embroiled 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 athletic coaches nationwide were charged and more than 50 people were 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 college’s 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 suit, USC has agreed to pay out more than $1 billion for claims against the doctor, who worked at the school for nearly three decades.