Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Federal prosecutors are recommending a six-year prison sentence for former City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was convicted of bribery, fraud and conspiracy charges for steering county contracts toward the USC School of Social Work in exchange for the secret funneling of a $100,000 contribution to an organization run by his son, according to court papers filed Aug. 7.
“This was a shakedown,” prosecutors wrote in a 32-page sentencing memorandum.
“Not the kind in movies with bags of cash or threats of force. But the kind that is polite and pervasive. The kind that happens too often by sophisticated, powerful people. The kind to which society, sadly, has become so accustomed that it often goes unreported and rarely yields consequences for the offender but strikes a devastating blow to the integrity of our democratic system.”
Defense attorneys are asking for a probationary sentence with home confinement and no prison time.
The 68-year-old Ridley-Thomas was convicted March 30 on single counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud, stemming from his time serving on the county Board of Supervisors. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 21 in downtown Los Angeles.
Prosecutors are asking that U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer impose a sentence of six years imprisonment, three years supervised release, and a fine of $30,000.
In defense papers also filed Aug. 7, Ridley-Thomas’ attorneys argue for a probationary sentence along the lines of the penalty handed to his co-defendant, Marilyn Flynn.
Flynn, an 84-year-old former dean of the social work school at USC who pleaded guilty to bribing the politician, was sentenced last month to three years probation, including 18 months of home confinement, and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine.
Counsel for Ridley-Thomas are urging a term of probation, with “substantial” home confinement, community service, a financial penalty, “and any other punitive and restorative conditions that the court deems fit is fair and reasonable,” defense attorneys wrote.
“A just sentence must consider whether imposing a significantly different sentence from that imposed on Dean Flynn lends to the appearance of vindictiveness for proceeding to trial,” the document states.
According to the prosecution’s memo, Ridley-Thomas shook down Flynn, and in doing so made his demands known: “Help me and my son in exchange for Los Angeles County business.”
Prosecutors say Flynn received the message loud and clear. “Aware that lucrative county contracts and an amendment to the existing Telehealth contract hung in the balance, Flynn worked tirelessly, for over a year, to deliver seemingly any benefit and perk at her disposal to please defendant and his son,” according to the memo.
Ridley-Thomas has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He did not testify in his own defense during his three-week trial, but his attorneys argued repeatedly that nothing he did amounted to a crime.
Federal prosecutors based their case on a long string of emails and letters to bolster allegations that Ridley-Thomas, one of the most formidable politicians in Los Angeles, “used his publicly provided privileges to monetize his elected office and demand benefits for his son,” prosecutors wrote.
Aware that Flynn needed county contracts and an amendment to the Telehealth contract, Ridley-Thomas made county business contingent on benefits for his son, Sebastian, including admission to USC to obtain a master’s degree, a full-tuition scholarship to attend USC for free, a paid professorship to teach at USC while simultaneously enrolled as a student, and the secret funneling of $100,000 from the father’s campaign committee account through USC to a nonprofit his son was spearheading called the Policy, Research & Practice, according to trial testimony.
“Witness testimony and hundreds of emails admitted at trial, as well as Flynn’s admissions in her plea agreement, make clear that defendant drove and orchestrated this corrupt scheme,” the memo states.
In their argument for probation and home confinement, defense attorneys wrote that there is no need to incarcerate Ridley-Thomas.
“He has been in the public eye for decades,” the defendant’s lawyers wrote. “His reputation was built on ethical community empowerment. The shame of his convictions is punishment and provides ample specific deterrence.
“With the felony convictions, his service in public office is over. He has lost his City Council position and may lose his pension. Now nearing 70 years of age, he faces a desperately uncertain financial future. And a lengthy sentence is not needed to protect the public.”
Ridley-Thomas was a member of the Los Angeles City Council 1991-2002, then was a member of the Assembly and state Senate before being elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020, when he returned to the City Council.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the City Council following the October 2021 federal indictment that also named Flynn as co-defendant. After the guilty verdicts, Heather Hutt was appointed as the new councilwoman from District 10.
Jurors, who reached their verdicts on their fifth day of deliberations in Los Angeles federal court, acquitted Ridley-Thomas of a dozen fraud counts.
Attorneys for Ridley-Thomas are appealing the conviction.