Ridley-Thomas tentatively set for Dec. 21 trial

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Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — A tentative trial date of Dec. 21 has been set for City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and a former USC dean of social work who are facing federal corruption charges. A status conference will be held in the case Nov. 8.

Marilyn Flynn, 83, pleaded not guilty Oct. 25 to federal corruption charges in the alleged bribery scheme that prosecutors say resulted in the university receiving lucrative county contracts.

Flynn remains free on a $50,000 unsecured bond. Her attorney, Vicki I. Podberesky, has said her client “has not committed any crime, and we believe that the evidence in this case will ultimately support this conclusion.”

Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty during his arraignment Nov. 20.

Meanwhile, a group of Ridley-Thomas’ 10th Council District constituents protested outside City Hall Oct. 26 the City Council’s decision to suspend Ridley-Thomas from his council duties.

Rev. James Lawson, a soldier in the 1950s battles for civil rights, and Sweet Alice Harris were among the Ridley-Thomas supporters who claim they have been left without representation by the council’s decision to suspend him while he awaits trial.

The council also suspended Councilman Jose Huziar in July 2020 after he was indicted on corruption charges. Huizar’s council term ended last December.

According to a 20-count federal indictment, Flynn agreed to provide Ridley-Thomas’ son with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship at the university. She also 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, former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

In exchange, the indictment alleges, 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.

The donation prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles that is ongoing, according to federal prosecutors.

According to the indictment, the activities occurred in 2017-18, beginning when Sebastian Ridley-Thomas 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.

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 play,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said.

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.

The 66-year-old Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment Oct. 20. The same day, he was suspended from his City Council post and his salary and benefits were frozen. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

Both Ridley-Thomas and Flynn 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.

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