Ridley-Thomas Makes 1st Appearance Since Arraignment

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
November 8, 2021 Updated: November 8, 2021

LOS ANGELES—A brief status conference was held Nov. 8 in the corruption case against Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, a former dean of the USC School of Social Work. Both made their first appearance this morning before the federal judge overseeing their case, but a new trial date was not yet scheduled.

During the 10-minute hearing, in which Ridley-Thomas and Flynn appeared via Zoom, the judge heard a summary of the prosecution and requested both sides to stipulate the need for a new trial date due to the cancellation of the December trial date, which was previously set during their arraignments last month.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruth C. Pinkel described the case as a “fraud and bribery case … the conduct is purely about Mark Ridley-Thomas’s conduct while he was on the Board of Supervisors.”

Pinkel told the court that her office has produced 35,000 pages of evidentiary material, with more to come. She said the prosecution’s case at trial would last about two weeks. The defense did not offer a time estimate.

The defendants are charged in a 20-count indictment, alleging a secret deal whereby Ridley-Thomas—when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors—agreed to steer county money to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.

Flynn allegedly arranged a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son, a former state assembly member. The donation prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles that remains open, prosecutors said.

In exchange, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including lucrative deals 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 revenue, according to the indictment.

“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,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said.

Both Ridley-Thomas, 67, and Flynn, 83, are charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery. The indictment also charges both defendants with two counts of “honest services” mail fraud and 15 counts of “honest services” wire fraud.

As part of the bribery scheme, the two took steps “to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes, kickbacks, and other benefits,” prosecutors allege.

The conspiracy count carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison, and each bribery count can go up to 10 years. For the “honest service” fraud charges, each can carry a maximum of 20 years.

Both defendants have strongly denied any wrongdoing and promise that evidence will clear their names.

According to the indictment, the activities occurred in 2017–18 when Ridley-Thomas’ son, then significantly in debt, was subjected to an internal sexual harassment investigation in the Assembly.

Sebastian resigned from the Assembly in 2017, although he insisted at the time that his departure was due to health reasons, not a sexual harassment probe.

On the other hand, the prosecutors said the social work school was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, which threatened the school’s viability as well as Flynn’s position and reputation as the school’s 21-year dean.

USC removed her from the position around June 2018, as stated in the indictment. As a dean, Flynn was making $240,000 a year, with an additional $170,000 stipend, Pinkel said.

“She needed money … to keep the School of Social Work financially afloat,” the prosecutor alleged.

Ridley-Thomas has been suspended from his city council post, with his salary and benefits frozen.

Before his suspension, the councilman said he would not resign and would continue to focus on addressing Los Angeles’ homelessness and housing crisis. He later said he would step back from attending meetings, but remain in office.