Ridley-Thomas bribery case based on emails: ‘MRT is really trying to deliver here’
Federal prosecutors finished presenting evidence in their corruption case against suspended Los Angeles City Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas on Friday, paving the way for the powerful lawmaker’s defense to share his version of the case next week. .
The case centers on official votes and actions Ridley-Thomas took as a member of the five-member LA County Board of Supervisors that prosecutors say were supportive of USC and made in exchange for benefits for his son, a former member of the State Assembly.
Among the benefits Sebastian Ridley-Thomas received were admission to the School of Social Work, a full scholarship, part-time employment as a professor in the social work and public policy programs at the USC, and funneling a $100,000 donation through the university to a nonprofit he headed, prosecutors say.
Jurors in the seventh-floor courtroom heard detailed testimony about the inner workings of USC’s social work program as well as former dean Marilyn Flynn’s efforts to curry favor with Ridley- Thomas and maneuver in the university to accomplish his plans.
This is a public corruption case based not on wiretaps but on emails, largely from Flynn to subordinates or college colleagues and to Ridley-Thomas himself.
“I’m holding my breath…MRT is really trying to deliver here,” Flynn told a professor of a potential vote before the board of supervisors for a probation training program she was seeking.
Regarding a vote in front of supervisors at a parole facility near USC that the university might partner to run, Flynn told colleagues, “I met with the supervisor recently and we discussed the issue. interest of the school to get involved. This is exactly what I had hoped would happen.
And when Flynn wanted to fast-track the hiring of Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian, she wrote to Jack Knott, then dean of USC’s School of Public Policy: “I think in the interest of showing MRT we can deliver, that would be plan to send offer letter before holiday.
One letter stands out: a multi-page document Flynn penned in the summer of 2017 in which she commemorated a meeting with Ridley-Thomas weeks earlier. In the memo, Flynn describes a wish list involving business between USC and the county. One of the claims involved the “stuck motion” of a contract between USC and the county mental health department and involvement with a parole office near the university.
That letter was printed and hand-delivered by one of Flynn’s co-workers, Brenda Wiewel, who dropped it in a sealed envelope at Ridley-Thomas’ office in the county administration lobby, according to her testimony.
FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins testified Friday that subsequent correspondence corroborated both the in-person meeting Flynn had with Ridley-Thomas and the veracity of the “confidential letter.”
When Flynn later saw the supervisors’ action regarding the parole office, she wrote to a colleague, “I spoke with Mark about it and I’m very happy to see he kept his word.”
But in a surprising move, especially for a case that straddles a private university and a massive local government agency, no LA County official was called to testify before the jury.
To point out the absence of county officials on the case, defense attorney Daralyn Durie asked the FBI agent, “Do you know what happened after Brenda Wiewel filed the letter?
“No,” Adkins replied.
On Friday, Dr. Jonathan Sherin — the former director of the county’s mental health department — was due to testify and was even at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.
Prosecutors had called Sherin a “critical gatekeeper” in the process for USC to win a coveted amendment to a mental health contract – and a gatekeeper who was allegedly influenced by Ridley-Thomas. The indictment in the case alleges that Ridley-Thomas “pressured” Sherin “to perform official acts favorable” to the contract.
But prosecutors ultimately chose not to call Sherin on the witness stand.
No current or former supervisors were introduced to the jury, despite FBI agent Adkins indicating that an unknown number of current supervisors were interviewed.
No Ridley-Thomas deputy was interviewed by the FBI, and none testified. Adkins said it was a “cost-benefit analysis” and it was unlikely anyone was directly aware of the “deal” between Ridley-Thomas and Flynn.
“Deputies,” he testified, “are likely to show some level of loyalty to their boss.”
Los Angeles Times