LA city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and ex-USC dean Marilyn Louise Flynn indicted in federal corruption probe

A Los Angeles City Council member and the former dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work were indicted Wednesday in connection with a scheme in which the pol allegedly promised to steer lucrative contracts to the school if it gave his son a scholarship and a professorship.

Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, 66, and Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, were expected to be arraigned in the coming days on charges of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and honest services wire fraud. They face decades in prison if convicted of all charges.

“This indictment charges a seasoned lawmaker who allegedly abused the public’s trust by taking official actions to benefit his family member and himself,” Acting US Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. “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.”

Prosecutors say that in May 2017, when Ridley-Thomas was a member of Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors, he informed Flynn that one of his relatives was interested in going to graduate school at USC. The relative is not identified in the indictment, but details correspond to known information about Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian.

The former dean of USC’s School of Social Work was looking for lucrative contracts to help alleviate its multimillion dollar budget deficit.
USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School o

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, now 34, was a member of the California State Assembly between 2013 and 2017, but resigned amid an internal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. That probe concluded in 2019 that he had likely made an unwanted sexual advance toward a Capitol staffer.

A statement from Wilkison’s office suggested that Mark 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.”

The indictment states that a week after Ridley-Thomas gave Flynn the heads-up about his son, she emailed a colleague that she “‘intend[ed] to open every door for’” the disgraced ex-lawmaker.

In June 2017, Flynn allegedly told Mark Ridley-Thomas that in exchange for her efforts to help his son receive a joint master’s degree from USC’s School of Social Work and School of Public Policy, she wanted the supervisor to help the university land contracts with Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department — as well as an alteration to an existing telehealth contract in order to bolster the School of Social Work’s budget, which authorities say was facing “a multimillion-dollar” deficit.

Former California Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas resigned after being accused of sexual harassment in 2017.
AP

The indictment goes on to allege that as Mark Ridley-Thomas shepherded the contracts through the Board of Supervisors, Flynn arranged for Sebastian Ridley-Thomas to study for a joint master’s degree “without adhering to the standard sequence of coursework.” To do this, the document says, the dean allegedly oversaw the creation of an “entire online curriculum, which had never existed previously for this program.”

That fall, prosecutors say, Mark and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas lobbied for the younger man to receive a paid professorship. After Flynn learned that Mark Ridley-Thomas had convinced another public official to support changing the telehealth contract, she allegedly directed that his son receive a $26,000 scholarship for the spring and summer terms in 2018 as well as a paid teaching position with a $50,000 salary — even though being both a student and a teacher would violate USC policy.

Then in April 2018, according to the US Attorney’s Office, Flynn “agreed to funnel $100,000” in Mark Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to an unidentified non-profit “to be operated by” Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

In a statement Wednesday night, USC said it learned about the $100,000 payment in the summer of 2018, reported it to federal prosecutors at the time, and has “fully cooperated” with the investigation since.

USC has dealt with a series of high profile scandals over the past few years, including the conviction of parents caught paying bribes for admissions.
USC has dealt with a series of high profile scandals over the past few years, including the conviction of parents caught paying bribes for admissions.
Getty Images

“Marilyn Flynn has not been employed by the university since September 2018,” the statement said. “We will continue to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and must limit comments because this is a pending criminal matter.”

Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles native, is one of the most powerful and best-known politicians in Southern California. He earned a Ph.D. in Social Ethics and Policy Analysis from USC in 1989. He’s serving his fourth nonconsecutive term on the City Council, where he chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee. He also served two terms on the county Board of Supervisors and a term each in the state Assembly and the state Senate.

Wednesday’s indictment is another blow to USC, which has been forced to deal with a series of high-profile scandals in recent years. The university was caught up in the “Operation Varsity Blues” investigation, which led to the arrests of three coaches and a senior athletic administrator and forced it to revamp its admissions process for student-athletes.

Earlier this year, USC agreed to an $852 million settlement with more than 700 women who accused the college’s longtime campus gynecologist of sexual abuse. When combined with an earlier settlement of a separate class-action suit, USC has agreed to pay out more than $1 billion for claims against Dr. George Tyndall, who worked at the school for nearly three decades.

With Post wires

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