By | Michael Bustamante
Los Angeles’ weather isn’t the only thing heating up this month. On Monday, both the defense and prosecution filed competing responses to Judge Dale S. Fischer in the matter of the United States of America v. Mark Ridley-Thomas. Reading the dozens of pages filed by each side to support and oppose the proposed sentencing guidelines, you’d think they were talking about two different cases, different defendants and a different set of the accompanying acts that led us here.
In their filing, prosecutors continued to position MRT as the “mastermind” behind the so-called scheme, which in their minds justify a six-year jail sentence, while MRT’s defense team pointed to a cascade of reasons why this case is not about a public official diverting public funds for his own personal gain. “No one with the last name Ridley-Thomas made a dollar from the arrangement the jury concluded was a bribe,” read the defense’s filing. “We are here because MRT supported the Telehealth Amendment. That is it.”
In a striking contrast to recent bribery and corruption cases in Los Angeles involving two LA City Council members and an executive with LA’s Department of Water and Power who bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars, the defense added, “This is not the prototypical corruption case. No lavish Las Vegas trips. No cash in a paper bag. No illegal contributions from a wealthy donor. No money that MRT received. The County did not lose any money because the amendment at issue had no net county cost.” The amendment was passed unanimously on what’s referred to as a ‘consent calendar’ without any conversation.
Indeed, two Los Angeles County Supervisors were called to the stand during the proceeding – Supervisor Shiels Kuehl and Supervisor Janice Hahn. When questioned, both replied “NO” when queried if MRT pressured them in any way to support this [telehealth] amendment.
The defense, in their justification against incarcerating MRT and instead providing probation, reminded the court, “To punish a person because he has done what the law plainly allows him to do is a due process violation of the most basic sort. MRT chose to exercise his constitutional right to a trial on a very close case. The jury deliberated for five days, submitted eight questions on the jury instructions to the Court, and acquitted on 12 of 19 counts.”
For its part, the prosecution questioned out loud why the community was so supportive of Ridley-Thomas, accusing MRT of undermining the public’s faith in the justice system. In its filing the prosecution claimed, “community groups and media personalities with ties to the defendant encourage the public to discount the verdict.” Specifically trying to counter legitimate issues raised by the community – and appearing to try to speak to the community directly – the prosecution wrote, “defendant is not a victim. He was not targeted by the federal government or USC. He was not the casualty of false testimony. And this trial was not unfair.”
Quickly forgotten is the fact that former USC Board president and mayoral hopeful Rick Caruso called attention to Dean Flynn’s activities with the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) through a former US Attorney who now represents USC. Or that defense counsel in its filings last month cited at least three examples the prosecution’s lead investigator, FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins, lying under oath. It is interesting the prosecution took the extraordinary step to try to explain itself. Clearly, it would appear that a legitimate question exists about whether a fair trial was indeed had.
In its 32-page document, USAO ramps up the rhetoric, writing, “a sentence of less than 72 months, particularly given the numerous aggravating factors here, risks feeding the perception of a two-tier system of justice where the powerful and the privileged defendants fare better than defendants of lesser means and status.” They also argued for a fine of $30,000.
It should be noted that the same USAO, in a government corruption case where the defendant embezzled more than $30 million dollars from LA County taxpayers, argued for 18-months’ probation for the perpetrator. Perhaps that’s what they meant by a two-tiered justice system.
In its filing, Ridley-Thomas’ defense team argued he deserves probation only, echoing the probation department’s view. “Dr. Ridley-Thomas has made an historic impact in the community. He has devoted decades to serving others, to empowering historically silenced votes, to doing everything in his power to make Los Angeles a better place,” his defense team wrote.
Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to appear before Judge Fischer for sentencing on August 21st at 8:30 a.m.