Jury Finds City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas Guilty of Conspiracy, Bribery and Other Charges

On the fifth day of deliberations, the trial concluded with a conviction of the Los Angeles political giant over his dealings with a dean at USC

A federal jury has found Mark Ridley-Thomas guilty of bribery, conspiracy and five other charges. It is a major victory for the U.S. Department of Justice, with the conviction of a political giant who prosecutors said sought to “monetize” his position.

The verdict was announced Thursday morning, on the fifth day of deliberations. Ridley-Thomas was convicted on one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, one count of honest services mail fraud, and four counts of honest services wire fraud. He was found not guilty on a dozen other charges of honest services fraud.

He will be sentenced at a later date.

It had been unclear in recent days which way the jury would go, with the panel sending out questions seeking the definition of legal terms, among other queries.

The verdict will reverberate across the local political scene. Ridley-Thomas, an ally of Mayor Karen Bass, was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in October 2021, and a week later the City Council voted to suspend him. Yet that was pending the outcome of his trial or the charges being dropped—the conviction means Ridley-Thomas will not reclaim the District 10 Council seat he won in 2020. The post is currently held on an interim basis by Heather Hutt, who is running in the regularly scheduled election next year. The council could now vote to remove her “interim” tag.

Opening arguments in the trial in the federal courthouse downtown had begun on March 8. Prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice spent more than a week calling witnesses and laying out their case; the defense was completed in two days.

Closing arguments—with Lindsey Greer Dotson arguing for the prosecution and Daralyn Durie for the defense—began last Thursday. The case was handed to the jury Friday morning. On the first three days deliberations ended at 2:30, but on Wednesday the jury opted to go for two additional hours. The jury returned this morning.

Prosecutors claimed that, while a member of the County Board of Supervisors, Ridley-Thomas conspired with former USC School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Flynn on a scheme to admit his son—ex-state Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas—to a graduate school program and provide him with a scholarship and a paid teaching position. In return, they argued, Ridley-Thomas had agreed to direct lucrative county contracts to the school.

The Justice Department had also argued that the supervisor illegally funneled $100,000 from a campaign fund to a nonprofit that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas would run, with Flynn using her school as the financial intermediary.

The defense team, from the firm Morrison Foerster, countered that Ridley-Thomas had never done anything illegal and had not “sold” his vote. They stated that any county motions or votes that had benefits for Flynn’s school were part of efforts that were consistent with his long legislative agenda and had begun well before the status of Sebastian Ridley-Thomas became an issue. In the closing argument rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Morse told the jury that the defense “misstated the law to you,” and soon added, “There is no requirement here that we prove the defendant sold his vote.”

The anchor of the prosecution case was testimony from FBI agent Brian Adkins, along with a collection of witnesses from USC. This was used to build a timeline that prosecutors said showed the supervisor making moves based on when Flynn did his bidding.

Prosecutors also contended that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas resigned his post not for health reasons, as he publicly stated, but because of a growing #MeToo investigation. They presented a litany of emails to argue that the elder Ridley-Thomas sought to provide a landing spot for his son and that he found a willing partner in Flynn, who was eager to improve her school’s finances.

The defense claimed there were numerous holes in the prosecution’s timeline, and brought to the stand Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’ doctor, who testified to a series of enduring, painful ailments, and said the two had discussed him resigning from the legislature. The defense also used as witnesses county employees, to build the argument that no individual supervisor could move a contract forward, and that instead, any allocation of funds involved a lengthy, bureaucratic process requiring a vote by the full five-member Board of Supervisors.

Flynn was indicted at the same time as Ridley-Thomas. Last September, she pleaded guilty to one count of bribery. She did not testify in Ridley-Thomas’ trial. Jurors were not told that she had been charged or accepted a plea deal.

Ridley-Thomas has one of the most extensive political resumes in Southern California. He first won a seat on the City Council in 1991, and later served in the state legislature and then on the County Board of Supervisors. He was elected again to the City Council in 2020 and was briefly discussed as a candidate for mayor. He ultimately opted not to run and threw his support to Bass, though after his indictment he did not play a public role in her campaign.

The conviction continues a string of victories for the Justice Department in takedowns of Los Angeles City Hall. In an unrelated case, former Councilmember José Huizar pleaded guilty to helming a “pay-to-play” scheme targeting the real estate development industry. Another former council member, Mitch Englander, also pleaded guilty as part of the case, as did several former Huizar consultants or staffers. A trial for former Deputy Mayor Ray Chan is on hiatus due to Chan’s lead attorney falling ill.

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