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Ridley-Thomas corruption case built on emails: 'MRT is really trying to deliver here'

Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — Federal prosecutors finished presenting evidence in their corruption case Friday against suspended Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, clearing the way for the powerful lawmaker's defense to share its side of the case next week.

The case centers on votes and official actions that Ridley-Thomas took as a member of L.A. County's five-member Board of Supervisors that prosecutors allege were favorable to the University of Southern California and done in exchange for benefits to his son, a former state assemblyman.

Among the benefits that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas received were admission to the School of Social Work, a full-tuition scholarship, a part-time job as a professor at USC's social work and public policy programs, and the routing of a $100,000 donation through the university to a nonprofit he was running, prosecutors allege.

Jurors in the seventh-floor courtroom have heard detailed testimony of the inner workings of USC's social work program along with efforts by former dean Marilyn Flynn to curry favor with Ridley-Thomas and maneuver around the university to accomplish her designs.

It is a public corruption case built not on wiretaps but emails, largely from Flynn to subordinates or colleagues at the university and Ridley-Thomas himself.

"I am holding my breath … MRT is really trying to deliver here," Flynn told a professor regarding a potential vote before the Board of Supervisors for a probation training program she sought.


Regarding a vote before the supervisors on a parole facility near USC that the university could partner to run, Flynn told colleagues: "I met with the supervisor recently, and we discussed the school's interest in involvement. This is exactly what I had hoped would happen."

And when Flynn wanted to accelerate the hiring of Ridley-Thomas' son, Sebastian, she wrote to Jack Knott, the then-dean of USC's public policy school: "I think in the interests of showing MRT that we can deliver, it would be provident to get the offer letter out before the holidays."

One letter stands out: a multi-page document Flynn drafted in the summer of 2017 in which she memorialized a meeting with Ridley-Thomas weeks earlier. In the memo, Flynn outlines a wish-list of sorts involving business between USC and the county. One request was to address the "stalled movement" of a contract between USC and the county's mental health department and for involvement in a parole office near the university.

That letter was printed and hand-delivered by one of Flynn's colleagues, Brenda Wiewel, who dropped it off in a sealed envelope at Ridley-Thomas' office in the county's Hall of Administration, according to her testimony.


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