In a glowing op-ed for an August Los Angeles Sentinel article, L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas reflected on his 30-year career in politics. Despite appearing to be a shoo-in for the 2022 Los Angeles Mayor’s race, Ridley-Thomas stated that he would not be running, and that he felt a different “calling”:
Ridley-Thomas says that at this point in his career his “calling and focus is that of the homeless crisis in the city of Los Angeles, and I will double down and lean in on that particular issue.” He says right now, he believes he can have the greatest impact on this issue as a member of the city council and chair of the powerful committee that is currently leading the efforts to house thousands of people now living on the streets of Los Angeles.
While all this sounded oh, so noble, Ridley-Thomas knew that the only thing that would be “calling” in a few months would be the Feds.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted Wednesday on federal charges of taking bribes from a former USC dean in exchange for supporting millions of dollars in L.A. County contracts with the university when he was on the county Board of Supervisors.
A federal grand jury accused Ridley-Thomas of conspiring with Marilyn Louise Flynn, then dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to steer county money to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.
The 20-count indictment alleges that Flynn and Ridley-Thomas also concocted a scheme to funnel $100,000 from one of his campaign committees through the university to a nonprofit where his son would work.
Ridley-Thomas, 66, one of the most powerful political figures in Los Angeles, and Flynn each face charges of conspiracy, bribery, mail and wire fraud.
Ridley-Thomas has long been in the line of Los Angeles elected officials who used their position and influence to enrich themselves and family members. Now he’s joined the shorter line of those who might actually pay for their excesses. Former Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar was arrested last year on federal RICO charges, alleging he accepted $1.5 million in kickbacks. In January, Councilman Mitch Englander was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison for obstruction of the federal investigation into his acceptance of gifts, including $15,000 in cash, during 2017 trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
This indictment of Ridley-Thomas was years in the making. In 2018, the L.A. Times uncovered that the University of Southern California received a $100,000 donation from a campaign fund controlled by Ridley-Thomas. The Councilman’s son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, had previously been hired as a professor of social work and public policy, and was also given a scholarship by USC to attend graduate school. Somewhere along the line, that $100,000 gift ended up in a non-profit group run by Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley–Thomas, a USC alumnus with a long professional relationship with Flynn, donated $100,000 from his campaign account to the social work school.
The Times reported last year that Flynn had transferred the money to the United Ways of California with instructions that it be given to a think tank run by Ridley–Thomas‘ son Sebastian. The younger Ridley–Thomas was at the time working to regain his footing professionally.
He had stepped down abruptly from the state Assembly after learning he was the subject of a sexual harassment probe. He denied the accusations, but legislative investigators later found that several allegations “more likely than not” occurred. USC‘s schools of public policy and social work both offered him a job as a nontenured professor, and the social work school also gave him a scholarship to study for a master’s degree.
The institution requested that the U.S. Attorney’s Office conduct a criminal investigation into the gift.
Because of that donation and the subsequent investigation, Marilyn Flynn, the dean of the School of Social Work, stepped down, and has also been indicted and named as a co-conspirator alongside Councilman Ridley-Thomas.
“This indictment charges a seasoned lawmaker who allegedly abused the public’s trust by taking official actions to benefit himself and his family member,” acting U.S. Atty. Tracy L. Wilkison said. “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.”
For 30 years, this “seasoned lawmaker” has grifted his way through the California political system as a City Councilman, an Assemblyman, the California Senate, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors, and a Councilman seemingly without a hitch. Despite the looming shadow of an indictment, Ridley-Thomas ensured he made a final power play, endorsing CA Rep. Karen Bass for Los Angeles Mayor.
We will see how this indictment, and the Los Angeles mayor’s race both play out.