Wave Staff and Wire Reports
LOS ANGELES — The federal criminal case against suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and the USC School of Social Work became an issue in the mayor’s race last week after the Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Rep. Karen Bass also had ties to Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of USC’s social work program, who was indicted in October 2021 along with Ridley-Thomas.
Bass, the frontrunner in the race for mayor, denied allegations that a $100,000 full-tuition scholarship she received from USC’s social work program had any relation to the Ridley-Thomas case.
As she has in the past, Bass said she obtained the USC degree to become a “better advocate for children and families,” and she balked at comparisons to Ridley-Thomas, who is facing federal corruption charges involving, in part, a full scholarship his son received to the USC social work program.
“This case has nothing to do with me, other than in a middle of a political campaign, [mayoral opponent] Rick Caruso is trying to take advantage,” Bass told reporters.
The Los Angeles Times reported that court documents suggest that federal prosecutors are citing Bass’ scholarship as a possible similar instance of a university official — Flynn— trying to curry favor with an elected official.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told The Times Bass is not under any type of criminal investigation. The Times reported, however, that prosecutors have declared Bass’ scholarship and her dealings with USC “critical” to the Ridley-Thomas bribery case and to their broader portrayal of corruption in the university’s social work program.
The prosecutors’ filing suggests that by awarding Bass free tuition in 2011, Flynn hoped to obtain the congresswoman’s assistance in passing legislation, The Times reported. The court papers indicate that Bass sponsored a bill in Congress that would have expanded USC’s and other private universities’ access to federal funding for social work, “just as defendant Flynn wanted,” The Times story said.
But Bass insisted she sponsored the bill because “it was about child care social workers, and that’s critically needed.”
Caruso, Bass’ opponent in the November mayoral runoff election, held a news conference Sept. 8, saying Bass’ scholarship amounts to “corruption and dishonesty.”
“We cannot afford for the next mayor to govern under a cloud of corruption,” he said.
Flynn is charged with what prosecutors allege was a quid pro quo with then-County Supervisor Ridley-Thomas involving an exchange of lucrative county contracts for a scholarship awarded to his son. In court papers, prosecutors cited an email from Flynn in which she noted doing “the same” exchange with Bass, The Times reported.
In many of the court filings cited by the paper, Bass’ name is redacted, in accordance with Department of Justice policy. But The Times confirmed her identity through case records, people familiar with the case and copies of emails that were filed in court and later redacted.
Flynn and Ridley-Thomas are scheduled to go on trial in November. The details of Bass’ free master’s degree from USC could become a contested part of the case, The Times reported.
According to a copy of a subpoena filed in August, Flynn’s lawyers subpoenaed USC in June for correspondence pertaining to Bass’ scholarship and any honors or benefits given to Bass.
Through a representative, Bass denied to The Times that she spoke with Flynn about federal funding for social work programs at private universities. When asked whether it was apparent that Flynn had a legislative agenda in offering her the scholarship, Bass said, “No,” according to The Times.
Bass’ campaign went on the offensive against Caruso, releasing an ad accusing the former USC Board of Trustees chairman of failing to protect women at USC from long-term abuse by campus gynecologist George Tyndall.
“The real USC scandal we need to talk about is how Rick Caruso failed to protect these young women and then covered up the sexual assaults against them,” Bass said.
Bass later made headlines over the weekend when she reported that her home in the Baldwin Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles was burglarized Sept. 9. by someone who stole two firearms from her home.
“Last night, I came home and discovered that my house had been broken into and burglarized,” Bass said in a statement issued Sept. 10.
“LAPD was called, and I appreciate their assistance. At this time, it appears that only two firearms, despite being safely and securely stored, were stolen. Cash, electronics and other valuables were not. It’s unnerving and, unfortunately, it’s something that far too many Angelenos have faced.”
The suspect was described by the Los Angeles Police Department as a Hispanic man, 5 feet, 9 inches tall and about 200 pounds. He was seen wearing dark clothing, a surgical mask, a blue baseball cap with a white logo and black Asics sneakers.