LOS ANGELES — It was a celebratory affair in September when L. A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and his wife Avis were honored for their years of public service during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Wellness Center on the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science campus.
The new 10,000-square-foot facility includes both a student health and wellness clinic that will provide urgent care, mental health counseling and wellness programs to students and employees.
Less than a month later, Ridley-Thomas’ legacy of 30 years of public service was dealt a severe blow when he was named in a 20-count federal indictment accusing him of conspiring with a former dean at USC to give his son a job and a scholarship in exchange for steering contracts with Los Angeles County Departments of Probation and Mental Health to USC while Ridley-Thomas was a member of the county Board of Supervisors.
Federal prosecutors charge that Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of social work at USC, to provide lucrative contracts with the county in exchange for a job and a full tuition scholarship for his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who abruptly resigned from the state Legislature in 2017 related to sexual harassment allegations.
The indictment lays out an email trail that exposes the quid pro quo with both parties in agreement that Flynn would “open all doors” to expedite Sebastian’s hiring and enrollment, with the elder Ridley-Thomas affirmatively voting in favor of contract extensions while “exerting pressure” on senior level county employees.
Ridley-Thomas allegedly funneled $100,000 from his campaign account to USC that Flynn routed to the United Ways of California, that ultimately ended up at a “think tank” run by Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
The elder Ridley-Thomas called the charges “outrageous” and pleaded not guily to all the charges in the indictment.
His colleagues on the City Council promptly suspended him, an action he said “stripped the constituents of the 10th District of their representation, of their voice and of their right to the services that they deserve.”
Ridley-Thomas had rejoined the City Council, where he served from 1991 to 2002, before being elected to the state Legislature.
He later served three term on the county Board of Supervisors before being termed out of office in 2020. He then was elected to represent the 10th District on the City Council.
U.S. U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer set a tentative trial date for next Aug. 9 for Ridley-Thomas and Flynn.
Ciy Council President Nury Martinez appointed Ridley-Thomas’ chief of staff Karly Katona to oversee the 10th District Council office while Ridley-Thomas is suspended.
Katona doesn’t officially hold the seat and can’t vote on council agenda items, but she and Ridley-Thomas’ staff are working to fulfill their duties and carry out the initiatives that the councilman had prioritized, including addressing the homelessness crisis.
“The 10th District team is committed to serving the residents of the district and advancing an equity-based agenda,” said Katona, who served on Ridley-Thomas’ staff when he was on the county Board of Supervisors for 12 years and became his chief of staff shortly after he was elected to the City Council. “We remain acutely focused on our top priorities: revitalizing Leimert Park Village and Marlton Square, advancing numerous park and library improvements, enhancing the livability of our neighborhoods, developing thousands of housing units, partnering with homeless service providers and civic agencies to link unhoused individuals across the district to suitable housing and services, and creating opportunities for civic engagement.
“There is much work to do — and we remain dedicated to getting it done,” Katona added.
Ridley-Thomas made a recent public appearance, appearing at the “Snow in Leimert Park” holiday festival Dec. 17 with his two grandchildren and was observed taking pictures of them as the played in the snow.
Asked how he was doing, Ridley-Thomas simply replied “all right.”