Mark Ridley-Thomas Sentenced to 3 & 1/2 Years in Prison
r Corruptly Securing Benefits for Son from School via Bribery and Fraud Scheme
September 14, 2023
Mark Ridley-Thomas was sentenced Monday to 42 months in federal prison for a bribery and fraud scheme in which the longtime politician demanded benefits for his son from a university dean in exchange for Ridley-Thomas' political support for lucrative Los Angeles County business.
Ridley-Thomas, 68, of Los Angeles, was sentenced by United States District Judge Dale S. Fischer, who also ordered Ridley-Thomas to pay a $30,000 fine.
At today's hearing, Judge Fischer said Ridley-Thomas engaged in a "shakedown" and that he used his "[political] support as a bargaining chip to get benefits for his son." Judge Fischer also noted, "There is simply no justification for monetizing a public office."
At the conclusion of a 16-day trial, a federal jury on March 30 found Ridley-Thomas guilty of one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, one count of honest services mail fraud, and four counts of honest services wire fraud.
Ridley-Thomas, whose political career spans more than 30 years, was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors when he participated in the corrupt scheme. Ridley-Thomas subsequently was elected to the Los Angeles City Council, which suspended him after a federal grand jury in October 2021 indicted him in this case, and he was permanently removed from the City Council following the guilty verdicts.
"This case, together with my office's many other prosecutions of politicians, law enforcement officers, and public officials, shows our commitment to root out corruption and hold responsible those who flout the law and abuse their positions of trust," said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. "Our community deserves and demands elected leaders who do not place personal benefit over the good of their constituents."
"Mr. Ridley-Thomas was elected to serve the people of Los Angeles but instead, his deliberate actions served his own interests and those of his family member," said Donald Alway, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office.
"The FBI will continue to target the corruption that erodes trust in government so the people of Los Angeles can have faith in their elected officials."
The jury found that Ridley-Thomas engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Marilyn Louise Flynn, 84, of Los Feliz, formerly the dean of the University of Southern California's School of Social Work and a tenured professor.
In December 2017, citing health issues, Ridley-Thomas' son abruptly resigned from the California State Assembly. At the time of his resignation, Ridley-Thomas' son was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation in the Assembly, a fact not known by USC or the public. Behind the scenes, Ridley-Thomas orchestrated a media and legal campaign, using a public relations team to convince the public his son was ill and a legal team to indefinitely stall the Assembly's investigation.Ridley-Thomas sought "landing spots" for his son, prosecutors said, to preserve the Ridley-Thomas family legacy and Ridley-Thomas' own political brand in advance of a planned run for Los Angeles mayor in 2022. These "spots" included prestigious titles, advanced degrees, and paying jobs to help his son deal with mounting personal debt.
Ridley-Thomas solicited Flynn's help securing these spots for his son. He knew that Flynn needed his help obtaining county contracts, and he "monetized" his public service by using the power of his elected office as a "bargaining chip" to enrich his family and preserve his political image, prosecutors argued.
During the conspiracy's course, Flynn ultimately met Ridley-Thomas' demands by providing his son graduate school admission to pursue a dual master's degree, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a mechanism for Ridley-Thomas to funnel $100,000 of his campaign funds through the university to a non-profit operated by the son – the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative (PRPI).
By funneling the payment through USC, Ridley-Thomas attempted to disguise the true source of a $100,000 payment to make it appear as though USC, not Ridley-Thomas, was the generous benefactor supporting his son and PRPI.
As part of their scheme, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn defrauded USC and others by concealing their secret arrangement and lying to the university about the purpose of Ridley-Thomas' $100,000 donation of campaign funds to USC, as well as the reason for Flynn's request that the university make a $100,000 payment to PRPI. Had USC known about their scheme or the lies both told, USC would not have accepted Ridley-Thomas' $100,000 donation, nor would it have approved the subsequent $100,000 payment to PRPI.
In exchange for Flynn's help funneling the $100,000 in campaign funds through USC to PRPI and his son, Ridley-Thomas supported a lucrative amendment to an existing contract between the county and USC through which the USC Telehealth Clinic provided virtual mental health services to patients referred by the county in exchange for taxpayer dollars. On the face of the contract, the amended terms offered USC more than $500,000 in revenue, although according to evidence at trial, Flynn anticipated an even greater return – potentially up to $8 million in new revenue – with Ridley-Thomas' assistance.
In addition, while soliciting benefits from Flynn, Ridley-Thomas supported other contracts involving the Social Work School, including contracts to provide services to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the county's Probation Department. During the conspiracy, Ridley-Thomas voted on three county proposals, including the amended Telehealth contract, that Flynn had sought to shore up her school's financial situation as it faced a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. Ridley-Thomas also worked to influence key county decisionmakers associated with these approvals and made sure Flynn knew of his efforts while he sought lucrative benefits for his son from Flynn
Flynn pleaded guilty in September 2022 to one count of bribery. On July 24, Judge Fischer sentenced Flynn to three years of probation, including 18 months of home confinement, and fined her $150,000.
The FBI investigated this matter.