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L.A. City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas Convicted Of Federal Bribery and Conspiracy Charges

12:04 PM PDT on March 30, 2023

Suspended Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas was convicted of federal bribery and conspiracy charges, along with mail and wire fraud, stemming from his time serving on the county Board of Supervisors. Ridley-Thomas faced 19 counts in total. He was found not guilty of 11 counts relating to wire fraud.

L.A. courts reporter Meghann Cuniff reported that Ridley-Thomas "had no visible reaction as he sat at the defense table with his attorneys," when the verdict was read. The career politician first began his political career as a Los Angeles city council member in the early 90s. He served as a state representative and state senator  before being elected to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2008.

Ridley-Thomas becomes the third current or former Los Angeles City Council member to be convicted of crimes related to corruption and bribery in recent years. Earlier this year, former Councilmember Jose Huizar pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. And in 2020, former council member Mitch Englander pleaded guilty to one count of scheming to falsify material facts. Huizar is still awaiting sentencing and Englander was ordered to 14 months in the feds in 2021.

The Ridley-Thomas case stemmed from his time serving on the county Board of Supervisors. Prosecutors alleged that Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, former dean of the USC School of Social Work, had a quid pro quo arrangement during 2017 and 2018 in which the then-dean arranged for Ridley-Thomas' son, Sebastian, admission to USC, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship in exchange for his father's support for county proposals that would help the school's shoddy financial picture and save Flynn's job. The suspended council member was also accused of funneling $100,000 in "seed money'' from the politician's campaign fund through the school.

The prosecutions' case was largely built on a trail of emails and letters. In one email, Flynn told a supervisor, “I am holding my breath … MRT is really trying to deliver here."

In Ridley-Thomas's defense, his attorney argued that the suspended council member's behaviors might seem malicious but nothing he did was technically illegal. Although the government argued that Ridley-Thomas accepted help for Sebastian in exchange for his support of USC contracts that would've helped Flynn's school financially, Ridley-Thomas's counsel said the then-supervisor had already been in support of the proposals, so he could not have been bribed.

Flynn pleaded guilty in September to one count of bribery, admitting that she agreed to disguise and funnel $100,000 from the then-supervisor to USC, then to United Ways of California, which ultimately passed the money on to Sebastian's nonprofit. The longtime dean of the USC School of Social Work, who departed in 2018, is scheduled to be sentenced June 26.

U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer set sentencing for Aug. 14.

City News Services contributed to this report.

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