Guilty Verdicts for Mark Ridley-Thomas
On Thursday, suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was found guilty on single counts of bribery and conspiracy, along with one count of honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud. Ridley-Thomas, a prominent figure in Los Angeles politics, was acquitted on 12 other fraud counts. The verdicts came after five days of deliberations, and Ridley-Thomas showed no reaction when they were read in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. The 68-year old politician, who faces federal counts of conspiracy and bribery, did not testify in his own defense.
Scheme of Corruption
Federal prosecutors accused Ridley-Thomas of accepting perks from USC while he served as a county supervisor to benefit his son, Sebastian. Prosecutors alleged a quid pro quo arrangement between Ridley-Thomas and then-dean of the USC School of Social Work, Marilyn Flynn, during 2017 and 2018. Flynn allegedly arranged for Sebastian’s admission to USC, a full-tuition scholarship, and a paid professorship in exchange for Ridley-Thomas supporting county proposals that would have benefited the school’s financial situation and saved Flynn’s job. Ridley-Thomas was found guilty of bribery involving programs receiving federal funds as a result of a $100,000 transfer of funds from his campaign fund to USC, then to the United Ways of California, and finally to the politician’s son’s new nonprofit think tank.
Community Suffers Immense Damage
United States Attorney Martin Estrada issued a statement, saying: “When elected leaders engage in acts of corruption, our community suffers immense damage. Ridley-Thomas engaged in a corrupt conspiracy with a university dean to steer taxpayer-funded contracts to the school in exchange for benefits for his son…today’s verdict sends a clear message to public officials that my office will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who abuse their power and thereby breach the public trust.”
Defense attorney Daralyn Durie contended that nothing Ridley-Thomas did was illegal and that the “paper trail” was not what it seemed. Durie argued that Ridley-Thomas had already expressed support for the county proposals, so he could not have been bribed. Durie also alleged that one of the contracts amounted to less than $500,000 over five years, which the defense suggested was an amount so low that it would not have helped remedy the financial problems at Flynn’s school.
Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the City Council following the October 2023 federal indictment that also named Flynn as a co-defendant. Ridley-Thomas previously served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002 and then the state Assembly and state Senate before being elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2023 before returning to the City Council. Although the government argued that Ridley-Thomas accepted help for Sebastian in exchange for his support of USC contracts, the defense claimed that nothing Ridley- Thomas did was illegal. Ridley-Thomas faces an unknown sentence.
NBCLA’s Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.