L.A. City Council Suspends Mark Ridley-Thomas After Federal Bribery And Conspiracy Indictment

·9 min read

UPDATED: The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-3 today to suspend Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas from office.

Ridley-Thomas was indicted last week on federal bribery and conspiracy charges stemming from his time on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

More from Deadline

Responding to the vote, Ridley-Thomas issued a statement saying, “I am humbled by the support of my colleagues who did not rush to judgment and disappointed in those who did. Eleven members of this council have stripped the constituents of the 10th District of their representation, of their voice and of their right to the services that they deserve. They have removed from action a member — and his team — who together are among the most productive and effective advocates on the crisis of homelessness. I will continue fighting to clear my name, and I remain confident that such will be the case. But in the interim, the council has disenfranchised the residents of the 10th District.”

PREVIOUSLY on Friday: Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas said Friday that he has “no intention” of resigning from the council.

“When I ran for City Council, I made it clear that my highest priority would be addressing the city’s homeless and housing crises, and that remains the case. There is no issue that matters more to Angelenos and to me,” Ridley-Thomas said in a prepared statement.

“That said, I have no intention of resigning my seat on the City Council or neglecting my duties. Doing so would be to the detriment of the people I serve, and I have no intention of leaving my constituents without a voice on matters that directly affect their well-being.

“Going forward, I intend to do two things: disprove the allegations leveled at me and continue the work I was elected to do — most importantly, addressing the homeless and housing crisis.”

His statement follows his indictment Wednesday on federal corruption charges stemming from his time on the county Board of Supervisors during which he allegedly sought to clandestinely secure a job for his son. More on that below.

Fellow City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a candidate for mayor, quickly called on Ridley-Thomas to resign in light of the indictment. Buscaino said on Twitter he is “shocked, saddened and disgusted” by the charges, which he says “tarnish the reputation of the entire LA City Council.”

City Council President Nury Martinez said she was “disappointed” in the news, adding, “While the alleged crimes took place while Mr. Ridley-Thomas sat on the Board of Supervisors, these charges are serious and the council will need to take appropriate action.”

She did not specify what action could potentially be taken. When Councilmen Jose Huizar was arrested last year, the council voted to suspend him, leaving his staff to serve as caretakers for the district.

PREVIOUSLY on Wednesday: Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the former dean of USC’s School of Social Work have been indicted on federal corruption charges over an alleged a bribery scheme stemming from Ridley-Thomas’ time serving on the county Board of Supervisors, prosecutors announced today.

Democrat Ridley-Thomas is a fixture of local politics, having held office for the past 30 years as, variously, an L.A. City Councilman, a member of the California State Assembly and Senate and an L.A. County Supervisor.

He is the third L.A. city councilman face federal charges the past two years. Former member José Huizar was arrested on racketeering charges last year and pleaded not guilty. Former Councilmember Mitchell Englander was sentenced in January to 14 months in federal prison for his conduct surrounding his obstruction of a public-corruption investigation.

Fellow City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a candidate for mayor, quickly called on Ridley-Thomas to resign in light of the indictment. Buscaino said on Twitter he is “shocked, saddened and disgusted” by the charges, which he says “tarnish the reputation of the entire LA City Council.”

City Council President Nury Martinez said she was “disappointed” in the news, adding, “While the alleged crimes took place while Mr. Ridley-Thomas sat on the Board of Supervisors, these charges are serious and the council will need to take appropriate action.”

She did not specify what action could potentially be taken. When Huizar was arrested, the council voted to suspend him, leaving his staff to serve as caretakers for the district.

Prosecutors contend a Ridley-Thomas relative received substantial benefits from the university in exchange for Ridley-Thomas supporting county contracts and lucrative contract amendments with the university while he served on the county board. USC is in Ridley-Thomas’ district, which includes Arlington Heights, Koreatown, Mid-City, Olympic Park, Palms, South Robertson, West Adams, West Pico and Wilshire Center. He is also a graduate of the university, from which he received a doctorate in social ethics.

The 20-count indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court alleges that Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn to provide the relative — reportedly, his son — with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship and a mechanism to funnel Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by the relative.

An attorney for the councilman said at the time the case was referred to federal prosecutors that he did not believe it raised “any legal or ethical issues,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We do not believe that it raises any legal or ethical issues, and it had nothing to do with his son’s scholarship or employment at the university,” attorney Stephen Kaufman said.

“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. 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. Public corruption cases are among the most important matters we pursue, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute whenever public officials and others entrusted with taxpayer funds break the law.”

The indictment outlines an alleged scheme in 2017 and 2018 in which then-Supervisor Ridley-Thomas sought benefits from Flynn and university officials to benefit his relative, who was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation in the state Assembly, likely to resign from elected office and significantly in debt.

The indictment did not name the relative, however, Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian, resigned from the Assembly in 2017 amid investigations into sexual harassment complaints. He insisted at the time that his resignation was due to health reasons, not a sexual harassment probe. Sebastian Ridley-Thomas later became a professor of social work and public policy at USC — despite lacking a graduate degree. He was later terminated over questions about his original appointment and concerns by the university over the $100,000 that was
donated from his father’s campaign funds to the School of Social Work, then
directed to Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’ nonprofit.

Prosecutors claim Mark Ridley-Thomas wanted to secure paid employment for his son to minimize any public fallout for them both in the wake of the son’s sudden resignation from office. Meanwhile, the Social Work School was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, which threatened the school’s viability as well as Flynn’s position and reputation as the school’s longtime dean, according to the indictment.

As part of the bribery scheme, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn allegedly took steps “to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes, kickbacks and other benefits” Ridley-Thomas and his relative received — which included concealing the official acts Ridley-Thomas agreed to perform in exchange for the financial benefits, according to the document.

The pair also concealed, according to the indictment, the true purpose of the $100,000 funneled to the relative’s nonprofit through the university, which also violated multiple university policies regarding the funding of nonprofits, prosecutors said.

Within weeks of Ridley-Thomas contacting Flynn in May 2017 about his relative wanting a postgraduate degree from the university, Flynn began a campaign to secure both university admission and a full scholarship for the relative, prosecutors allege.

Flynn wrote in an email that she intended to open every door for the family member, the indictment alleges. When a university official said Ridley- Thomas had “lots of discretionary money” and should give the university “$1M each year for three years,” according to the indictment, Flynn responded that
she and another university official intended to offer the relative a full scholarship in exchange for funds for the school.

In June 2017, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn allegedly reached an agreement, which Flynn later memorialized in a confidential letter she had hand-delivered to Ridley-Thomas, prosecutors said. The indictment alleges that Flynn’s letter detailed her expectations that Ridley-Thomas would steer new contracts with DCFS and Probation to the Social Work School and secure a lucrative amendment to an existing Telehealth-DMH contract.

With the new amendment, Flynn expected the Telehealth contract to generate about $9 million per year for the School of Social Work, prosecutors contend.

The indictment alleges that Ridley-Thomas took a series of official actions, including voting in August 2017 to approve a motion to establish a partnership between the county and Social Work School, and voting in October 2017 to approve a motion, related to “Probation University,” that would create a county payment source for the school.

Flynn told university officials in emails that she was “very happy to see that [Ridley-Thomas] was as good as his word” and that he was “really trying to deliver,” the indictment alleges.

The conspiracy count alleged in the indictment carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison. Each bribery count carries a maximum possible sentence of 10 years. Each of the mail fraud and wire fraud charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years.

City News Service contributed to this report.

Best of Deadline

Sign up for Deadline's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting