LA councilman, former USC dean indicted on federal bribery charges

LA councilman, former USC dean indicted on federal bribery charges
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Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D) was indicted on federal bribery charges Wednesday in connection with an alleged scheme to provide lucrative contracts in exchange for his son being admitted to a university master's program.

Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Louise Flynn, who was the dean of the University of Southern California's School of Social Work, are charged with more than 20 counts of bribery and fraud in connection with the scheme that ran from 2017 to 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.

Ridley-Thomas, who at the time was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, allegedly sought to get his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, into the social work master's program, along with a full scholarship and paid position as a professor, according to the The Wall Street Journal.

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The younger Ridley-Thomas, referred to as "MRT Relative 1" in the indictment, was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation by the California State Assembly at the time, and his father "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 U.S. attorney's office wrote.  

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was admitted with a $26,000 full scholarship for the summer and spring terms in 2018, as well as a paid teaching position worth $50,000.

In exchange, the indictment alleges, Ridley-Thomas supported lucrative contracts for USC's Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department as well as an amendment to a telehealth contract with the Department of Mental Health worth $9 million.

At the time, 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," the U.S. Attorney's office wrote, citing the indictment.

Neither the indictment nor the Justice Department revealed the university or the councilman’s relative. 

However, the Journal and The Associated Press noted that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was a state Assembly member who resigned in 2017 for unspecified health reasons. An investigation from the Assembly found two years later that he likely made an unwanted sexual advance toward a staffer.

And Flynn was the dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work at the time.

Mark Ridley-Thomas and Flynn are charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery. Both are also charged with two counts of honest services mail fraud and 15 counts of honest services wire fraud.

The Hill has reached out to Ridley-Thomas’s office for comment.

Ridley-Thomas was elected to the City Council in 2020 after serving on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from 2008 to 2010.