LOS ANGELES — Longtime politician Mark Ridley-Thomas and a former dean at the University of Southern California were indicted Wednesday on federal bribery and corruption charges involving political support for county contracts, prosecutors said.
The charges against Ridley-Thomas, 66, a Los Angeles City Council member, stem from his time serving on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
He was indicted with Marilyn Louise Flynn, the former dean of USC's school of social work, on counts of conspiracy, bribery and mail and wire fraud, prosecutors said.
The 20-count indictment alleges that Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts with the school worth millions of dollars in exchange for Flynn's helping a relative of Ridley-Thomas'.
Flynn is alleged to have agreed to admit the relative to the graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.
The indictment describes a $100,000 payment to an unnamed sponsor to finance a nonprofit organization that Ridley-Thomas' relative would run, according to the document.
Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts with the school, including an amendment to a contract worth an expected $9 million, prosecutors said.
“This indictment charges a seasoned lawmaker who allegedly abused the public's trust by taking official actions to benefit his family member and himself,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement.
Ridley-Thomas' City Council press office did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday night. Online federal court records did not show an attorney for him.
USC said in a statement that it disclosed problems to federal prosecutors in 2018.
"When the university learned in the summer of 2018 about the $100,000 payment referenced in the indictment, the university disclosed the issue to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and has fully cooperated ever since," USC officials said in a statement.
Flynn has not been employed with USC since September 2018, they said. She was named dean of the school in 1997 and was removed in 2018 before she resigned, the indictment said.
Ridley-Thomas' relative is not named in the indictment, which says the relative was a member of the state Assembly from 2013 to Dec. 31, 2017.
Ridley-Thomas' son Sebastian was a state assemblyman during those years and announced his resignation in December 2017, citing health reasons.
The indictment says that the relative was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation and that Ridley-Thomas and the relative knew he would likely have to step down. Accounting for the reality that the relative would need to new job, Ridley Thomas is alleged to have contacted Flynn about attending graduate school.
At the time, the university's social work school faced a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, the indictment says.
Ridley-Thomas and Flynn have agreed to appear for an arraignment at federal court in the coming weeks, prosecutors said.
According to the indictment, at one point Flynn told another university official that the school would get a telehealth contract worth an estimated $9 million a year but that she needed to do a "favor" and winked.
At an earlier point, Ridley-Thomas wrote Flynn in an email that "your wish is my command" when she asked about the contract amendment, the indictment says.
Ridley-Thomas was on the county Board of Supervisors from 2008 to 2020, and in 2020 he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council. He was also previously on city council beginning in 1991 and served terms in the state assembly and state senate.
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez said she was disappointed by the news. "While the alleged crimes took place while Mr. Ridley-Thomas sat on the Board of Supervisors, these charges are serious and the Council will need to take appropriate action," Martinez said.
Ridley-Thomas is the third current or former Los Angeles City Council member to be indicted on federal charges since 2020.
Jose Huizar was charged in 2020 with accepting bribes from developers. He has pleaded not guilty.
Former Council member Mitchell Englander, who resigned in 2018, was charged last year in connection with the corruption probe. He lied about taking improper gifts, pleaded guilty and in January was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
USC has also been connected to scandals in recent years.
Former longtime USC gynecologist George Tyndall was criminally charged and accused of sexually assaulting patients, and the university agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to hundreds of women to settle lawsuits. The U.S. Department of Education found that USC mishandled reports of the abuse.
Two former USC soccer coaches pleaded guilty in the sprawling "Operation Varsity Blues" college admissions cheating case, in which wealthy parents paid bribes to get their children into top-tier schools, sometimes with faked athletic profiles. A former USC associate athletic director and another former coach have been charged.