Corrupt democrat Los Angeles city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas indicted in federal corruption probe

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The New York Post is reporting that a high-level Los Angeles Democrat has been indicted in a federal corruption probe.

Councilman Mark Ridley Thomas, 66 along with former dean Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83 are expected to be arraigned in the next few days on charges of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and honest services wire fraud.

The charges carry decades in prison if they are convicted, although honestly at their age, the chances of any type of lengthy sentence is questionable.

 

The indictments stem from a scheme whereby Ridley-Thomas and a former dean at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work hatched a deal to direct lucrative contracts to the school in exchange for a scholarship for his son, as well as a professorship.

In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said:

“This indictment charges a seasoned lawmaker who allegedly abused the public’s trust by taking official actions to benefit his family member and himself.

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,” she said in a statement.

Prosecutors allege that in May 2017, when Ridley-Thomas was then serving as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, he told Flynn that one of his relatives had an interest in attending graduate school at USC. Although the relative isn’t specifically identified in the indictment, details seem to match that of his son, Sebastian.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was a member of the California state Assembly between the years of 2013 and 2017, however was forced to resign as an internal investigation of possible sexual harassment was underway.

The results of this investigation, which ended in 2019, showed that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas had likely engaged in making unwanted sexual advances toward a Capitol staffer.

The statement from Wilkison’s office showed that the elder 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.”

According to the indictment, the elder Ridley-Thomas gave Flynn a “heads up” about Sebastian, whereby a week later she emailed a colleague at the university, stating that she “intend[ed] to open every door for” Sebastian, the now disgraced ex government official.

In a case of quid pro quo, Flynn told Mark Ridley-Thomas that she would agree to help Sebastian receive a joint master’s degree from the USC School of Social Work and School of Public Policy.

In exchange, she wanted him to assist the university in landing contracts with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department—as well as a demand to alter an existing telehealth contract “in order to bolster the School of Social Work’s budget,” which was in the throes of “a multi-million-dollar” deficit.

The indictment continues to allege that while the elder Ridley-Thomas steered contracts through the Board of Supervisors, Flynn was working to get his son through the master’s degree programs “without adhering to the standard sequence of coursework.”

In order to facilitate this, Flynn, the former dean facilitated the creation of an “entire online curriculum which had never existed previously for this program.”

Later that fall, both Ridley-Thomas’s lobbied for Sebastian to receive a paid professorship. At some point Flynn became aware that the elder Ridley-Thomas had convinced another official at the university to support changing the telehealth contract, which led to her directing Sebastian receive a $26,000 scholarship for both the spring and summer terms in 2018. 

She also arranged for a paid teaching position which carried with it a $50,000 salary, although being both a student and professor violated USC policy.

Following up, in April 2018 Flynn “agreed to funnel $100,000” in Mark Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through USC to an unidentified nonprofit “to be operated by” Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

In a Wednesday statement, the University of Southern California said it became aware of the $100,000 payment in the summer of 2018, whereby they reported it to federal prosecutors at that time and have “fully cooperated” with the investigation since that time.

“Marilyn Flynn has not been employed by the university since September 2018,” the statement read. “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 is widely considered to be one of the most powerful and best-known politicians in Southern California. Serving his fourth nonconsecutive term on the LA City Council, he chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee. He has also served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and served one term each in the state Assembly and the state Senate.

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the scandal involving Flynn and Ridley-Thomas is but the latest in a series of missteps at the university.

They cite the former medical school dean, who was exposed as a drug addict who used methamphetamine, heroin, and other drugs, as well as a longtime campus gynecologist who was accused of sexual misconduct by hundreds of USC alumnae, which led to a $1.1 billion settlement, the largest-ever sexual abuse payout by an institution of higher education.

USC was also involved in the college admissions bribery scandal, which took down actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to admissions advisors to have their children falsely admitted to the university as athletes.

Flynn’s attorney said that her client “has not committed any crime, and we believe that the evidence in this case will ultimately support this conclusion.”

She called Flynn a veteran academic who “worked tirelessly for the involvement and betterment of the social welfare network in Los Angeles and around the country.” Dean served as dean at USC for 21 years. According to the indictment, she was “removed” from her position around June 2018.

Federal prosecutors were tipped off after the Los Angeles Times found that USC had provided the scholarship to Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and appointed him as a professor at the same time his father funneled campaign money through the university which ended up in a nonprofit run by Sebastian.

The Times said that USC alerted federal prosecutors about the unusual arrangement after an internal investigation. It also noted that Flynn was under enormous budget pressure at the time of the scheme with Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Federal authorities said in announcing the indictment that Ridley-Thomas would be allowed to voluntarily surrender to the U.S. attorney’s office; Flynn’s attorney confirmed she will also surrender.

This is just the latest in a series of scandals to plague the LA City Council. Former councilman Jose Huizar is awaiting trial on racketeering, bribery, money laundering and other charges. That scheme involves multiple real estate developers who were seeking to build projects in his district when he served on the council.

Another councilman, Mitchell Englander is serving a 14-month bid in jail after he pleaded guilty for lying to federal authorities about cash and other gifts he received in casinos in Las Vegas and near Palm Springs.

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In case you missed our report on the cheating scandal at USC involving Loughlin and Huffman, we invite you to:

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LOS ANGELES, CA- Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman along with a number of high-profile CEO’s are among the nearly 50s at both the high school and college levels, and standardized test administrators, who engaged in the practices of “getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams.”

In all, 33 parents — including Loughlin and Huffman — allegedly paid a collective sum of $25 million to a college admissions counselor named William Singer, according to ABC News, who then “bribed college officials, coaches and college entrance exam administrators, who then helped students secure admissions ‘not on their merits but through fraud.'”

The FBI contends that Singer’s bribes went to officials at some of the most elite colleges in the country, including Yale, Stanford, UCLA, Georgetown, the University of San Diego, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, and the University of Southern California, and to college entrance exams administrators for both the SAT and ACT.

In one case, ” the head women’s soccer coach at Yale was paid $400,000 to accept a student even though the applicant did not play soccer. The parents of that student had allegedly paid Singer $1.2 million.”

In other cases, Singer allegedly facilitated cheating on college entrance exams, asking parents to pay between $15,000 and $75,000 to have other students take the SATs and ACTs in place of their children. Once he received the money, the FBI contends, Singer allegedly used a professional test taker to either pose as the students, “provid[e] students with answers during the exams.” or “correct[] their answers after they had completed the exams.”

Huffman herself is accused of giving a “purported charitable donation” of $15,000 to Singer in order to get her eldest daughter into an elite college. She and he husband, actor William H. Macy (referred to in the complaint only as “spouse”), also allegedly connected with Singer a second time to begin facilitating college admissions for their younger daughter, but eventually pulled out of the project.

Loughlin is in somewhat deeper, charging documents allege, having “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”

The two actresses were caught on wiretaps according to the complaint, and “both were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.” They were arrested Tuesday “without incident,” according to ABC.

Neither the students nor the schools themselves have been charged with any wrongdoing, only a handful of administrators whom the FBI says took the bribes directly. In some cases, the FBI’s complaint alleges, the students were completely unaware that they were being afforded special privileges that their parents had paid for. 

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