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Longtime Democrat politician Mark Ridley-Thomas has been indicted on federal corruption charges.
The 20-count indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court alleges that Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Louise Flynn, the former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, are both being indicted in connection to a bribery scheme.
The indictment alleges Ridley-Thomas conspired with Flynn to essentially set up a quid-pro-quo deal where they both would benefit financially.
The Department of Justice press release stated:
Longtime politician Mark Ridley-Thomas and the former dean of the School of Social Work at a university in Southern California were indicted today on federal corruption charges that allege a bribery scheme in which a Ridley-Thomas relative received substantial benefits from the university in exchange for Ridley-Thomas supporting county contracts and lucrative contract amendments with the university while he served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The 20-count indictment alleges that Ridley-Thomas, now a member of the Los Angeles City Council, conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn, formerly a tenured professor and the dean of the university’s School of Social Work, who agreed to provide the Ridley-Thomas relative with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a mechanism to funnel Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to a non-profit to be operated by the relative.
In exchange, the indictment alleges, Ridley-Thomas supported contracts involving the Social Work School, including contracts to provide services to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health (DMH) that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.
The DOJ press release added:
The indictment outlines a scheme in 2017 and 2018 in which then-supervisor Ridley-Thomas sought benefits from Flynn and university officials to benefit his close relative – described as “MRT Relative 1” in the indictment – at a time when MRT Relative 1 was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation in the California State Assembly, likely to resign from elected office, and significantly in debt. Ridley-Thomas allegedly wanted to help secure paid employment for his relative to minimize any public fallout for them both in the wake of the sudden resignation from office. Meanwhile, the Social Work School was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, which threatened the school’s viability as well as Flynn’s position and reputation as the school’s longtime dean, according to the indictment.
As part of the bribery scheme, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn allegedly took steps “to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes, kickbacks, and other benefits defendant Ridley-Thomas and MRT Relative 1 received,” which included concealing the official acts Ridley-Thomas agreed to perform and did perform in exchange for the financial benefits. The pair also concealed, according to the indictment, the true purpose of the money funneled to MRT Relative 1’s nonprofit through the university, which also violated multiple university policies regarding the funding of nonprofits.
Within weeks of Ridley-Thomas contacting Flynn in May 2017 about his relative wanting a postgraduate degree from the university, Flynn began a campaign to secure both university admission and a full scholarship for the relative. Flynn wrote in an email that she “intend[ed] to open every door for [MRT Relative 1],” whom she noted was closely related to the then-supervisor, the indictment alleges. When a university official said Ridley-Thomas had “lots of discretionary money” and should give the university “$1M each year for three years,” according to the indictment, Flynn responded that she and another university official intended to offer the relative a full scholarship, characterizing the exchange as a “full scholarship for our [Social Work School] funds.”
“This indictment charges a seasoned lawmaker who allegedly abused the public’s trust by taking official actions to benefit his family member and himself,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “The corrupt activities alleged in the indictment were facilitated by a major university’s high-ranking administrator whose desire for funding apparently trumped notions of integrity and fair play. Public corruption cases are among the most important matters we pursue, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute whenever public officials and others entrusted with taxpayer funds break the law.”
“This investigation should send a message to public officials that government contracts are not for sale,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “This indictment reaffirms the FBI’s commitment to rooting out corruption by holding accountable those who abuse the trust of the people they serve and who exploit their powerful positions to obtain benefits at the expense of taxpayers.”