Los Angeles, CA—Mark Ridley-Thomas was convicted by a jury this week on federal corruption charges, stemming from a quid pro quo scheme where Ridley-Thomas aimed to benefit his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. The long-time politician and former Los Angeles County Supervisor and City Council member, worked with USC so his Sebastian, could receive benefits from the University in exchange for Mark Ridley-Thomas’ political favors. Ridley-Thomas, 68, of Los Angeles, was found guilty of seven felonies: one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, one count of honest services mail fraud, and four counts of honest services wire fraud. The scandal unraveled in October 2021, which led to Ridley-Thomas suspension from his position on the L.A. City Council.
“Throughout the 1980’s, Ridley-Thomas served as the Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Los Angeles, reigning over one of their largest chapters in the U.S. Along with hosting a radio program, Ridley-Thomas managed to work both into a successful run for office in 1991 as a City Councilman of Los Angeles.” – The California Globe
An investigation found that from May 2017 to August 2018, Mark and Marilyn Louise Flynn, the former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, conspired to have money funneled to an organization run by Sebastian, in order to secure favor for political backing on various lucrative county contracts.
“In early 2018, Ridley-Thomas gave $100,000 to the USC School of Social Work through his political campaign fund. In turn, the school’s dean, Marilyn Flynn, sent the money to a think tank run by his son. However, this raised alarm bells, ultimately revealing that it was all a scheme for his son to get benefits from USC, such as a graduate school admission and a scholarship, in exchange for the elder Ridley-Thomas to support contracts between the County and USC. That led to the indictment of the elder Ridley-Thomas and Flynn by the US Attorney for the Central District of California this week. “-The California Globe.
Mark Ridley-Thomas has a long and impressive political career, rising through the California State Legislature and representing constituents on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, as well as the L.A City Council.
There are several incidents prior to this indictment, which caused the constituents of Ridley-Thomas and political watchdogs in L.A, to raise an eyebrow. For some, the long-standing and court-verified criminal charges against him, verify that throughout the decades, Ridley-Thomas has not been solely focused on improving the quality of life for L.A residents and Black Los Angeles in particular.
On the flip side, some public opinion remains in his favor, with many pointing to several institutions and improvements made by Ridley-Thomas during his tenure. The fact remains, however, that the criminal case against Ridley-Thomas was significant and ultimately deemed illegal by the court. His indictment and subsequent conviction not only tarnished the legacy of Ridley-Thomas, it was a huge blow to Black L.A politics.
While political favoritism is a common side effect of political office, Black communities can least afford our politicians being caught in political scandals. As Black Angeleno’s continue to be pushed beyond L.A City limits due to gentrification and covert anti-black racism and exclusion in key economic sectors, we need Black politicians to remain dedicated to addressing our most pressing needs.
The public fall from grace of Mark Ridley-Thomas serves as an example of what happens when a politician strays from their ethical obligations. Ridley-Thomas is not the only L.A City Councilman to be indicted and convicted while serving on the current scandal plagued L.A City Council. In January, former Los Angeles City Councilmember José Huizar pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges, for using his powerful position at City Hall to enrich himself and his associates.
“In his plea agreement, Huizar admitted to leading the CD-14 Enterprise, which operated as a pay-to-play scheme in which Huizar – assisted by others – unlawfully used his office to give favorable treatment to real estate developers who financed and facilitated bribes and other illicit financial benefits. Specifically, Huizar and other city officials demanded and accepted cash bribes, casino gambling chips, prostitution and escort services, political contributions, flights on private jets and commercial airlines, stays at luxury hotels and casinos, expensive meals, tickets to concerts and sporting events, and other benefits. Huizar also admitted to accepting a $600,000 bribe in the form of collateral from a billionaire real estate developer for Huizar to confidentially settle a pending sexual harassment lawsuit against Huizar by a former staffer.”
Last year, former L.A City Councilwoman Nury Martinez was forced to resign from the City Council, following a racism scandal over leaked audio between Martinez and other powerful Latino politicians in L.A.