Awaits Aug. 13 sentencing
Former Los Angeles City Counciulmember Mark Ridley-Thomas was originally charged with 19 counts of fraud and bribery for his role in a corruption scheme dating back to 2017 that also featured Marilyn Flynn, former dean of the USC School of Social Work, and Ridley- Thomas' son, former Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
Ridley-Thomas was convicted on one count of bribery and conspiracy, along with one count of honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud. Jurors acquitted Ridley-Thomas on 12 other fraud counts.
Questions were reportedly raised when other school officials questioned Sebastian's status at the school. He became a professor of social work and public policy at USC despite lacking a graduate degree. Sebastian was terminated over questions about his original appointment and concerns by the university over the $100,000 donation. He also obtained a full-tuition scholarship and graduate school admission, court papers showed.
Other charges claimed during the trial was that Ridley-Thomas allegedly sent a $100,000 donation to the school in support of his son's nonprofit, Policy, Research & Practice Initiative, and to support USC contracts, including Telehealth programs, that would've helped Flynn's school financially. Ridley-Thomas defense attorney Daralyn Durie countered that nothing Ridley- Thomas did was illegal, and a series of defense witnesses contended that the “paper trail” was not what it seemed. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass was reportedly mentioned in the emails between Flynn and Ridley-Thomas as prosecutors pin that Flynn was using her scholarship funds to secure government contracts.
“Public officials are elected to be a voice and a vote for the people they're paid to represent, not for their own personal gain,” said Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office. “Allegations of public malfeasance must and will be addressed by the FBI before further corrupt actions erode confidence in our public institutions.”
Ridley-Thomas has received support during and after his court cases from Mayor Bass and several council members. “I believe that this is a sad day for Los Angeles,” Bass said, who worked with Thomas for more than 40 years. “And I feel that sadness personally,” she added. Bass described Ridley-Thomas as a “policymaker who made a real impact.”
Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson took to Twitter to express his appreciation for Ridley-Thomas. “When those in power chose to forget our community, Mark Ridley-Thomas centered and uplifted us,” he wrote. “I certainly think people are shocked and saddened by what they’ve read. But I’ve also heard people share how much respect they have for the work that Mark Ridley-Thomas has done.”
State Sen. Steven Bradford (35th District) also made some remakes about Ridley-Thomas and his impact on the community. “I am compelled to share my appreciation for the civic contributions of Mark Ridley-Thomas. Mark Ridley-Thomas has devoted his professional life to serving the people of Los Angeles. He has invested his time and energy to empower and uplift his community and constituents for decades,” said Bradford, who also serves as chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.
Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 13.