Embattled councilman’s trial date set for August

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The corruption case against suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and a former dean of the USC School of Social Work will go to trial next August, a federal judge ruled last week.

The trial of Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn will begin Aug. 9 in downtown Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer ordered.

In a brief hearing last month, the judge heard a summary of the prosecution’s case and requested that both sides agree on a trial date.

The defendants are charged in a 20-count indictment alleging a secret deal whereby Ridley-Thomas — when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors — agreed to steer county money to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.

Flynn allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son, a former member of the Assembly. The donation prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles that remains open, prosecutors said.

In exchange, the indictment contends, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including lucrative deals to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.

Both defendants have strongly denied any wrongdoing and promised that evidence will clear their names.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruth C. Pinkel told the court in November that her office has produced 35,000 pages of evidentiary material, with more to come. She said the prosecution’s case at trial would last about two weeks. The defense did not offer a time estimate.

Pinkel described the case as a “fraud and bribery case … purely about Mark Ridley-Thomas’ conduct while he was on the Board of Supervisors.”

Both Ridley-Thomas, 67, and Flynn, 83, are charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery. The indictment also charges both defendants with two counts of “honest services” mail fraud and 15 counts of “honest services” wire fraud.

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 maximum of 20 years, prosecutors noted.

According to the indictment, the activities occurred in 2017-18, beginning when Ridley-Thomas’ son was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation in the Assembly, was likely to resign from elected office and was significantly in debt.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas resigned from the Assembly in 2017, although he insisted at the time that his departure was due to health reasons, not a sexual harassment probe.

Prosecutors said 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.

As part of the bribery scheme, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn took steps “to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes, kickbacks, and other benefits,” prosecutors allege.

Flynn was dean for 21 years. The indictment says USC removed her from the position around June 2018. Pinkel said that as a dean, Flynn was making $240,000 a year, with an additional $170,000 stipend.

“She needed money … to keep the School of Social Work financially afloat,” the prosecutor alleged.

Ridley-Thomas has been suspended from his City Council post and his salary and benefits were frozen. Before his suspension, the councilman said he would not resign and would continue to focus on addressing Los Angeles’ homelessness and housing crisis. He later said he would step back from attending meetings, but remain in office.

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