By Michael Bustamante
The defense team for Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas filed two motions earlier this week with Judge Dale S. Fischer arguing he deserves a new trial because the government’s star witness, FBI Agent Brian Adkins, gave false testimony on at least three occasions. In their second filing the defense team outlined multiple instances where the government failed to present sufficient evidence on the charges and in some cases “a total failure of proof” which should lead, according to the filings, to an outright acquittal of the jury’s conviction.
The motion for the new trial, referred to as a Rule 33 motion, argued that the jury’s decision to convict Ridley-Thomas was likely driven by Agent Adkins and his false or misleading testimony. During his testimony Adkins falsely testified about a Telehealth contract extension and incorrectly misrepresenting an interview by the FBI with John Sherin, former head of the County’s Department of Mental Health.
“Agent Adkins’ false statements therefore created the only pathway for the jury to infer that support for the Telehealth amendment was it genuine, which bears directly on Dr. Ridley-Thomas’s intent,” according to the filing. The defense team also called out the government’s improper behavior, improperly “vouching” for Agent Adkins and elicited improper testimony concerning his opinion of Ridley-Thomas’ guilt.
The second motion, Rule 29, provides that “the court on the defendant’s motion must enter a judgment of acquittal of any oﬀense for which the evidence is insuﬃcient to sustain a conviction”. The defense team argued in its filing that the government didn’t present the evidence it needed to support a conviction.
Prosecutors chose not to call a single witness from the County of Los Angeles. It subpoenaed no documents from the County and presented no evidence that Ridley-Thomas received any financial benefits, simply relying on speculation to prove corrupt intent. According to the filing, Prosecutors failed to make the case about the value of the County’s Telehealth contract. In fact, the inflated, multi-million-dollar amount prosecutors alleged was rebuffed by documents as well as testimony from a senior USC representative who indicated that the revised contract amount remained the same and would provide no additional revenue to USC.
The government’s key witness, FBI Agent Brian Adkins, could not recall how the money worked with the Telehealth contract and did not know the specifics of how the county process worked for approval of county items. Adkins did not speak to anyone to try to understand it. He did not know if the normal process was followed with respect to each of the county items at issue.
Instead, Adkins relied on a review of “some” of Ridley-Thomas’ subpoenaed emails (only his AOL account, not his county email) to understand “generally how that may have worked.” The government presented no evidence that Ridley-Thomas pressured anyone to support any legislative item.
On March 30, 2023, the jury acquitted Ridley-Thomas of all fraud counts related to Probation University and Vermont Street Reentry Center, as well as all counts related to the USC admission, scholarship, and Professor of Practice appointment of his son, former Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
In all Ridley-Thomas was found not guilty on 12 of the 19 charges brought against him by the government.
The jury convicted Ridley-Thomas on conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud, and four counts of honest services wire fraud. Prosecutors have until May 22 to file their response to the defense team’s motions. A hearing before Judge Fischer is scheduled for June 26 where she will consider both motions.