Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in Southern California, was indicted on Wednesday on federal corruption charges accusing him of conspiring with a USC dean, mail and wire fraud, and taking bribes that benefited himself and his son, Sebastian, a former Democratic Assemblyman in the state Legislature.
The Los Angeles Daily News reported, “The 20-count indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court alleges that Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn, who agreed to provide Ridley-Thomas’ relative with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a mechanism to funnel Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by the family member.”
According to the outlet, “In exchange, the 35-page indictment alleges, Ridley-Thomas supported contracts involving the School of Social Work, including contracts to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.”
“The corrupt activities alleged in the indictment were facilitated by a major university’s high-ranking administrator whose desire for funding apparently trumped notions of integrity and fair play,” said acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “Public corruption cases are among the most important matters we pursue, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute whenever public officials and others entrusted with taxpayer funds break the law.”
Flynn, now 83-years-old, was dean for 21 years when USC’s social work program evolved into the largest in the world. She was “removed” from her position in June 2018, according to the indictment.
BREAKING: The 35-pg, 20-count Federal Grand Jury Indictment against Mark Ridley-Thomas and University of Southern California School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Louise Flynn alleges Conspiracy, Bribery Concerning Programs, Receiving Federal Funds and Honest Services & Mail Fraud pic.twitter.com/ux1D0TF5af
— Andrew Blankstein (@anblanx) October 14, 2021
The indictment refers to Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, 34, as “MRT Relative 1.” It says the alleged crimes occurred in 2017 and 2018, when Ridley-Thomas, 66, was a member of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. He was termed out in 2020 and elected to L.A. City Council in November, returning to the 15-member body where he started his political career in 1991. Ridley-Thomas is the third council member to face federal corruption charges in the last two years.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has long-running feuds with Ridley-Thomas and current county supervisors, said the allegations demonstrate “why a Public Corruption Unit must exist outside of the influence” of the five-member board.
— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) October 14, 2021
The Los Angeles Times provides more details:
In a statement, a USC spokesperson said university officials have been cooperating with federal investigators since the summer of 2018, when they learned of the $100,000 payment Ridley-Thomas and Flynn allegedly orchestrated. Flynn stopped working for the university in September of that year, the statement said.
The indictment comes three years after The Times revealed that USC had provided a scholarship to Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and appointed him as a professor around the time that his father, while serving as a county supervisor, had funneled campaign money through the university that ended up in a nonprofit group run by his son.
The Times reported that USC alerted federal prosecutors to the unusual arrangement after an internal investigation. It also described the intense budget pressure Flynn was under at the time of the alleged scheme with Mark Ridley-Thomas in large part because of her embrace of online degree programs.
Former President Barack Obama described Mark-Ridley-Thomas as his “great friend” during a campaign rally in L.A. in 2008.
According to City News Service, Ridley-Thomas earned a doctorate in social ethics from USC.
I met John P Crossley, Jr—a top notch theological ethicist—in June of 1980. He was one of my best professors in the PhD program in Social Ethics. Monday we had a chance encounter and I gave him a shout out from the podium @USCEmeriti 40th Anniversary event. pic.twitter.com/9O7tAfyU98
— Mark Ridley-Thomas (@mridleythomas) December 13, 2018