Los Angeles political and community leaders were stunned by Wednesday’s corruption indictment against Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of the city’s best-known and longest-serving officials.
Ridley-Thomas is accused of conspiring with Marilyn Louise Flynn, who was then dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to channel money from the county to the university in exchange for admission to his son Sebastian in doctoral school with a full scholarship and a paid chair. Ridley-Thomas was then on the Los Angeles County Board of Directors. He was then elected to city council representing South Los Angeles.
Neither Ridley-Thomas nor his lawyer have so far responded to requests for comment.
Wednesday’s announcement was a shocking development for a politician who has been an influential voice in city politics for three decades and an architect of regional policy on the homeless crisis.
A resident of Leimert Park, Ridley-Thomas was elected to city council in 1991, months after police were caught on camera beating motorist Rodney King. In power, he fought for tighter oversight of the LAPD and lobbied for the departure of then-police chief Daryl Gates.
After a stint in the state legislature, Ridley-Thomas joined the supervisory board, working to reopen the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Willowbrook, which had been closed after years of mismanagement, and the establishment of a streetcar on Crenshaw Boulevard and Los Angeles. International airport. He also defended initiatives to fight homelessness, including measure H, which pays rent subsidies, accommodation beds and other services.
In August, he announced that he would not run for mayor, saying the fight against homelessness was his “vocation and his goal”.
“I’m going to double down and look into this particular issue,” he said.
Hours before the indictment went public, a Times reporter spoke to Ridley-Thomas about a new homelessness policy, which he had been an integral part of the editorial staff of. During that call, the seasoned politician gave no indication that anything was wrong. He said he was planning to attend a campaign event for Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) this weekend.
Ridley-Thomas, 66, is the third member of LA city council to face federal corruption charges in the past two years. He and Flynn each face charges of conspiracy, bribery, mail and email fraud.
Former Los Angeles city councilor Mitchell Englander was arrested in March 2020 for obstructing an investigation into money and other gifts he received at casinos in Las Vegas and near Palm Springs. He then pleaded guilty to a single charge of lying to federal authorities and was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
In June 2020, then-city councilor Jose Huizar was indicted in a related corruption case, with prosecutors alleging he had run a criminal enterprise that included racketeering, bribery, money laundering and money laundering. money and other crimes involving several real estate developers seeking to build in the city center. Huizar has pleaded not guilty and is seeking to have many of the charges dismissed.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, called the indictment a “devastating legal and community tragedy for the black Los Angeles electorate and its constituents.”
“Ridley-Thomas has been an institution in its own right in black politics and in the black community for many, many years,” he said. “He has a lot of voters, a lot of people, who look to him not just to be their representative – they see him as a political leader.”
Hutchinson urged city officials not to rush to trial, saying “an indictment is not a conviction.”
Council President Nury Martinez signaled that the Council could indeed act.
In a statement, Martinez said she was disappointed by the news of the indictment.
“Although the alleged crimes took place while Mr. Ridley-Thomas was on the supervisory board, these charges are serious and the board will need to take appropriate action,” she said.
Councilor Joe Buscaino, currently running for mayor, spoke even louder words, saying he was “shocked, saddened and disgusted” by the indictment.
“These accusations tarnish the reputation of the entire LA City Council, and because of it Ridley-Thomas should immediately step down from his post,” Buscaino said on Twitter.
The indictment comes three years after The Times revealed that USC provided a scholarship to Sebastian Ridley-Thomas and appointed him professor at the time when then-supervisor Ridley-Thomas, funneled campaign money through the university which ended up in a nonprofit group. run by his son.