For more than 30 years, he was a powerbroker in L.A. politics and a vocal advocate for civil rights and racial justice
Once among the most powerful politicians in the nation's most populous county, a Federal jury on Thursday convicted former LA County Supervisor and LA City Councilman Mark Ridley Thomas on charges of bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud. The charges related to benefits his son received at the University of Southern California (USC).
The verdict, which jurors reached in their fifth day of deliberations, marked a tragic turn for a gentleman who for more than 30 years was a powerbroker in L.A. politics and a vocal advocate for civil rights and racial justice. Numerous bridges and monuments are named after the now convicted, former City Councilman, including one on a hiking trail in Playa Vista.
Ridley-Thomas, 68, now faces the possibility of years in federal prison and the permanent ouster from his seat on the L.A. City Council, from which he has been suspended for the last 17 months.
The verdict is the most high-profile in a string of victories for a team of public corruption prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office in L.A. That team secured guilty pleas from two other L.A. city councilmembers and won the conviction of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in an illegal campaign contribution case. It unraveled a corruption scheme involving L.A.'s Department of Water and Power and sent a wealthy and connected Beverly Hills developer to prison for bribery in a case involving leases with L.A. County government.
The verdict also validates the work of Special Agent Brian Adkins, a well-regarded public corruption specialist for the FBI whose investigative steps were repeatedly attacked by Ridley-Thomas' defense attorneys as they sought to sow doubt in jurors' minds about the case presented to them.
To convict Ridley-Thomas, prosecutors and the FBI pored over reams of emails, phone records and internal USC documents to stitch together a timeline of the lawmaker's dealings with Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of USC's social work program.
Prosecutors outlined a conspiracy that began around May 2017, when Ridley-Thomas' son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas - then a member of the state Assembly - began expressing interest in attending USC's graduate social work program.
In emails, Flynn expressed eagerness to enroll Sebastian, describing her plan to give him free tuition and saying she did "the same for Karen Bass – full scholarship for our funds."
Prosecutors found the email about Bass a brazen example of Flynn's agenda – using scholarships as a means to secure government contracts.
"It's not rocket science what Marilyn Flynn is looking for here," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson told jurors in her closing argument last week. Bass was never charged, but as a member of Congress representing L.A., she had sponsored a bill that if passed, would have expanded federal funding to social work schools.