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Judgment Day for


Mark-Ridley Thomas

Monday, August 28th was a sad day for all parties involved when former council member Mark Ridley-Thomas (MRT) was sentenced to 42 months of prison, a 30,700 dollar fine, and three years of supervised release after his prison term is over. MRT was charged with conspiracy, bribery, and mail and wire fraud convictions. The charges stem from his involvement with a scheme between him and former University of Southern California School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Louise Flynn that supposedly assured her acceptance of contracts and donations from Thomas for “direct and indirect financial benefits.”

Their business transactions started back in 2016 with the initial signing of the USC Telehealth services contract. Reports from case files date back as early as 2017. Now, while initially not included in the case the prosecutors still recognize it as the first contract used for personal benefits. Prosecutors used the complete and unquestioned securement of admissions– a full-tuition scholarship to the graduate social work program, and a part-time professor position for his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, as the foundation of the case.

Thomas also funneled over 100,000 dollars through the Dworak-Peck School of Social Work at USC into a nonprofit run by the younger Ridley-Thomas. Young Ridley-Thomas was facing a sexual harassment investigation at the time. The incident was regarding a member of the state assembly from an incident back in December 2017.

After several other contracts from 2017-2018 were investigated by the FBI, Thomas and Flynn were charged in 2021. Flynn was convicted of bribery and fraud but accepted a plea deal that resulted in home confinement for one year and a fine of no less than 150,000 dollars.

“It’s so common for people to kind of wink and nod, and you do things for your friends, but it’s hard to prove that that’s illegal,” said Rebecca Lonergan, an associate professor of law at the Gould School of Law. “Because that is a slippery slope, a lot of times local political corruption doesn’t get very long sentences.”

While both were charged with fraud and bribery, Flynn’s sentencing was less severe because she accepted a plea agreement, while Ridley-Thomas denied his wrongdoing during the trial. Another contributing factor is that routine protocol regarding public official lawsuits often incur heavier sentences. Additionally, public officials are often given heavier sentences than regular citizens because of the violation of their oath of office.

“This was a shakedown,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers. “Not the kind in movies with bags of cash or threats of force. But the kind that is polite and pervasive. The kind that happens too often by sophisticated, powerful people. The kind to which society, sadly, has become so accustomed that it often goes unreported and rarely yields consequences for the offender but strikes a devastating blow to the integrity of our democratic system.”

Ridley-Thomas played a major role in the renewed Charles Drew Medical Center and has also had his name graced across a wellness center, a high school health center, a youth facility, and a bridge spanning La Cienega Boulevard.