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LA politician Mark Ridley-Thomas indicted in bribery, fraud scheme

Oct. 14 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury has indicted Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas and a former University of Southern California department dean for participating in a bribery and fraud scheme to gain the powerful politician's son admission to the institute's graduate school.

The 20-count indictment charges Ridley-Thomas, a former member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and Marilyn Louise Flynn, a former professor and dean of the USC's School of Social Work, with conspiracy, fraud and bribery offenses among others.

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According to the court document, Ridley-Thomas, 66, used his position on the board of supervisors, which he held from 2008 until this year, to shift millions of dollars worth of contracts to the USC's School of Social Work in exchange for Flynn granting the politician's son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, admittance to the school on a full scholarship and a paid professorship position.

The document also states Flynn created a mechanism for Ridley-Thomas to funnel $100,000 in campaign funds through the university to a non-profit his son operated.

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"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 Wilkison said in a statement. "The corrupt activities alleged in the indictment were facilitated by a major university's high-ranking administrator whose desire for funding apparently trumped notions of integrity and fair play."

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The conspiracy operated in 2017 and 2018 when Mark Ridley-Thomas' son, former California State Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation, which forced him to resign from office.

The indictment does not identify Sebastian Ridley-Thomas by name or relationship to Mark Ridley-Thomas but says he was an assembly member from 2013 to 2017 and was investigated for sexual harassment.

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The prosecutors allege in the indictment that the elder Ridley-Thomas wanted to secure his son the university position to "minimize any damage" to their public images following the sudden resignation from office.

The indictment states that the School of Social Work at that same time was under a multimillion-dollar budget deficit "that threatened the school's viability, as well as Flynn's deanship and reputation within the filed of social work."

According to prosecutors, Mark Ridley-Thomas as a member of the board of supervisors took several actions to create a relationship between the county and the school, including voting in 2017 to approve a motion to establish a so-called probation university that would create a new payment source for the university.

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On Jan. 9, 2018, the younger Ridley-Thomas was awarded a full tuition scholarship worth more than $26,000 and a professorship of the practice of policy and social work with a salary of $50,000 that started on March 16 of that same year.

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Flynn, 83, was removed as dean of the department in June of 2018 and resigned from the university in September of that same year.

"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," USC said in a statement.

The pair are charged with one count of conspiracy, on count of bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud and 15 counts of honest services wire fraud.

If convicted, they face a maximum five years in federal prison for the conspiracy charge, 10 years for each bribery charge and 20 years for each of the mail fraud and wire fraud charges.

Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez said in a statement to CBS Los Angeles that she was "disappointed" by the charges.

"These charges are serious and the council will need to take appropriate action," she said.

Fellow city councilman asked for Mark Ridley-Thomas to resign.

"I am shocked, saddened and disgusted by the federal bribery charges against Mark Ridley-Thomas," he tweeted. "These charges tarnish the reputation of the entire LA City Council, and because of that, Ridley-Thomas should immediately step down from his position."

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