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 LA Politician Indicted For Bribery 

Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Powerful LA politician indicted for bribery, and mail and wire fraud.

POWERFUL LA POLITICIAN INDICTED IN BRIBERY SCHEME

INTRODUCTION

Public corruption is consistently among the top law enforcement priorities for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), if not the #1 priority.

Indeed, a March 2020 online FBI post indicates public corruption to be their #1 criminal priority. 

Why?

The FBI says the reason is that public corruption breaches the trust society places on federal, state, or local public officials. Also, corrupt public officials undermine our national security and our confidence in government, costing us billions of dollars along the way. The FBI wholeheartedly believes that public corruption can harm virtually every aspect of our society. 

Bribery is the most common type of public corruption that the FBI investigates. In addition to bribery, however, the FBI also investigates extortion, embezzlement, racketeering, kickbacks, and money laundering, as well as wire, mail, bank, and tax fraud. 

Click here to read the FBI’s March 2020 statement on public corruption:

FBI’s TOP CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION PRIORITY.

DISCUSSION

When announcing the indictment of Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas (and a former USC dean) for participating in a bribery scheme, an FBI official stated:

This investigation should send a message to public officials that government contracts are not for sale”. . . The investigation also “reaffirms the FBI’s commitment to rooting out corruption by holding accountable those who abuse the trust of the people they serve and who exploit their powerful positions to obtain benefits at the expense of taxpayers.”

Ridley-Thomas is one of the most powerful and best-known politicians in Southern California. News reports indicate that he earned a Ph.D. in Social Ethics and Policy Analysis from USC in 1989. He is serving his fourth nonconsecutive term on the Los Angeles City Council and chairs the Homelessness and Poverty Committee. He also served two terms on the county Board of Supervisors and one term each in the State Assembly and the Senate.

Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Louise Flynn, a former tenured professor and the dean of the USC School of Social Work, are named defendants in a 20-count indictment. The government claims that the veteran politician traded official actions in exchange for benefits for his son Sebastian in 2017 and 2018.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas received benefits from USC such as “graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship, and a paid professorship,” among other things. USC ultimately fired Sebastian Ridley-Thomas after someone raised questions regarding his hiring. 

Councilman Ridley-Thomas was in an influential position to award significant contracts to the USC School of Social Work. Specifically, the School of Social Work would receive millions of dollars in new revenues by providing services to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Probation Department. Also, the city favorably amended an existing contract between the School of Social Work and the Department of Mental Health (DMH).

The case against Mark Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn presents the typical public corruption scenario in which a politician trades official public action for benefits to himself and his family member. In Flynn, the former USC dean, Ridley-Thomas found a university administrator willing to bend the rules of fair play in order to secure lucrative contracts from the city.  

At the time of the alleged scheme, USC’s School of Social Work was allegedly “facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, which threatened the school’s viability as well as Flynn’s position and reputation as the school’s longtime dean,” according to the indictment. 

Flynn was under pressure, and all she had to do to relieve the pressure was to secure a graduate school scholarship and a job for Ridley-Thomas’ son. Flynn was under so much pressure that she was willing to overlook the fact that it is a violation of USC policy for someone to be a student and a teacher. 

Both Ridley-Thomas and Flynn each face one charge of conspiracy and bribery, and they also face multiple counts of mail and wire fraud. Each conspiracy count could result in up to five years in federal prison, while each bribery count carries a maximum of 10 years in federal prison. Each fraud charge could result in up to 20 years in prison.

Click here for an article regarding federal bribery.

Understanding Federal Bribery: What you need to know.

Flynn also agreed to funnel $100,000 in Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the University to a non-profit that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas would operate. Ridley-Thomas allegedly desperately wanted to help his son secure employment right after his son suddenly resigned from his position in the State Assembly.

The FBI learned of potential corruption in this case through the cooperation of USC. In a statement following the indictments, USC said that when it learned in the summer of 2018 about the $100,000 payment referenced in the indictment, the University disclosed the issue to the US Attorney’s Office and has fully cooperated ever since.

The FBI investigates public corruption with the use of sophisticated investigative tools and methods. For example, the FBI utilizes undercover operations, court-authorized electronic surveillance, and informants. The FBI does not do its work alone. It works together with the inspector general offices from various federal agencies and with state and local partners. The FBI also depends significantly on assistance from the public, as was the case here, where USC contacted the FBI to report its suspicions regarding the $100,000 money funneling. 

CONCLUSION

The FBI publicly acknowledges that the vast majority of US public officials are honest and work hard. However, a small number of public officials make decisions for the wrong reasons, usually to help themselves, family, and friends. That appears to have been the case with senior politician Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was motivated by his son’s personal situation as well as the impact the situation could have on his own political career. 

Flynn appears to have succumbed to financial pressure on the job. 

Indeed, pressure is one of the elements of the well-known fraud triangle, which often motivates the crime in the first place. For example, a person cannot handle a financial problem legitimately and resorts to doing something illegal to solve the problem in the short term. 

Rationales like helping troubled family members, or relieving financial pressures on the job, are typical to many people who commit white-collar offenses. But they are no excuse for criminal conduct. Ridley-Thomas and Flynn, and others in a similar position under criminal indictment, have to devise a strategy to defend themselves in the criminal case and mitigate the consequences of their actions.

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance.

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