Mark Ridley-Thomas Found Guilty Of Bribery And Conspiracy
A jury Thursday found prominent Los Angeles politician Mark Ridley-Thomas guilty of bribery and conspiracy in his federal corruption trial. Jurors also found Ridley-Thomas guilty of one count of mail fraud and four counts of wire fraud.
He was found not guilty on one mail fraud count and 11 wire fraud counts.
Sentencing was set for Aug. 15.
Ridley-Thomas “defrauded the people of the county,“ U.S. Attorney Martín Estrada said after the jury handed down the verdicts. “Anytime a politician engages in corruption and breaches his duty of trust to the public, it is a great crime that must be brought to justice.”
A member of Ridley-Thomas' defense team said it will appeal the convictions.
It's a stunning turn of events for a man who has been a major player in L.A. and state politics for decades. The seven felony convictions require Ridley-Thomas' removal from the city council, according to the city charter. The council suspended him in 2021 after his indictment.
Commenting on the convictions, L.A. Mayor Karen Bass said, “this is a sad day for Los Angeles, and I feel that sadness personally.” Noting that she worked with Ridley-Thomas for more than 40 years on various political projects, the mayor said he “has been a champion for our city, a civil rights activist, a thought leader, and a policymaker who made real impact on this city.”
Prosecutors said Ridley-Thomas engaged in a conspiracy with Marilyn Flynn, dean of USC’s School of Social Work, in which he supported a lucrative county contract and two other potentially beneficial initiatives for the school in exchange for the dean providing his son with admission, a scholarship and a faculty job.
Prosecutors argued that as part of their deal, Flynn agreed to funnel $100,000 from a Ridley-Thomas political campaign fund through the School of Social Work to a new nonprofit headed by his son.
Flynn pleaded guilty to bribery last September, admitting she agreed to route the money to the nonprofit as a result of her desire to win county approval of a renewed contract for USC’s online mental health clinic.
In her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Dotson acknowledged there was no single document that laid out the conspiracy. She instead pointed to a flurry of emails and calls between Ridley-Thomas and Flynn in 2017 and 2018 that she said revealed “winks and nods” — including one email with a winking emoji and another with a fist bump emoji.
There is “no question he acted corruptly,” Dotson said of Ridley-Thomas. "Public officials do not get to monetize their public service," she said. "You can't represent to other people that they have to pay to play."
The alleged crimes occurred while Ridley-Thomas was a county supervisor.
The connection to USC
Dotson said Ridley-Thomas was "constantly dangling county carrots to Marilyn Flynn” at a time when the School of Social Work was in financial trouble.
The prosecutor referred to one email Flynn wrote to a colleague regarding potential county money for the university in which Flynn wrote, ”I’m holding my breath. MRT is really trying to deliver here.”
Other issues raised at trial
Dotson also spent considerable time discussing sexual harassment allegations that purportedly contributed to Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’ decision to resign from the state assembly in 2017 — a move she said provided his father with a motive to help his son financially.
In her closing argument, defense attorney Daralyn Durie pointed out that almost all the prosecution witnesses were from USC, and that none were L.A. County government employees, who she argued could have explained that Ridley-Thomas followed normal county processes.
Durie said two of Ridley-Thomas’ votes involved support for studies of possible new contracts with USC, not the approval of money. The third vote, she said, was to extend an existing contract for the online mental health clinic that had a spending cap on it.
The other two votes dealt with a probation reentry center near USC and a probation employee training program. Durie repeatedly noted that Ridley-Thomas had supported these types of programs as a “longstanding advocate for probation reform. Nobody would have thought they needed to bribe Mark Ridley-Thomas on any of these issues.”
In testimony as defense witnesses, County Supervisor Janice Hahn and former Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said Ridley-Thomas did not try to cajole them to support the contracts in question.
With regard to the sexual harassment allegations against Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Durie reminded the jury that Mark Ridley-Thomas “is certainly not on trial for anything his son did.”
Durie said the funneling of the $100,000 from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign fund through the university to his son’s nonprofit may have broken university rules but no laws.
“You may not like the way it looks,” defense attorney Galia Amram said earlier in the trial. “It doesn’t make it illegal."
Mark Ridley-Thomas supported good things for one reason: because they were good,” Amram said, adding, “It's what was going on in his head” that is most important.
MRT's long L.A. political history
Ridley-Thomas, 68, was born and raised in L.A. and was president of the city’s chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for a decade until 1991, when he was elected to the City Council. He served until 2002, representing the 8th District, which covers large swaths of South L.A.
He served in the state legislature for six years before being elected to the county Board of Supervisors in 2008. He was termed out of office in 2020 and elected to the L.A. City Council again.
Ridley-Thomas is such a high-profile figure in L.A. politics for having long been a champion of civil rights, child welfare and public health issues. He was instrumental, for example, in the rebuilding of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.
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