Federal prosecutors finished presenting evidence in their corruption case Friday against suspended Los Angeles city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, paving the way for the powerful lawmaker’s defense to share their version of the case next week.
The case centers on official votes and actions Ridley-Thomas took as a member of Los Angeles County’s five-member Board of Supervisors that prosecutors say were favorable to USC and were done in exchange for benefits to his son, a former state assemblyman.
Among the benefits Sebastian Ridley-Thomas received were admission to the School of Social Work, a full-tuition scholarship, a part-time job teaching in USC’s public policy and social work programs, and the routing of a $100,000 donation through the university to a nonprofit organization he ran, prosecutors allege.
Jurors in the seventh-floor courtroom have heard detailed testimony of the inner workings of USC’s social work program along with former dean Marilyn Flynn’s efforts to curry favor with Ridley-Thomas and maneuver the university. to achieve your designs.
It is a case of public corruption based not on wiretaps but on emails, largely from Flynn to his subordinates or colleagues at the university and to Ridley-Thomas himself.
“I’m holding my breath… MRT is really trying to deliver here,” Flynn told a professor regarding a possible vote before the Board of Supervisors for a parole training program he was seeking.
Regarding a vote before supervisors on a probation center near USC that the university could partner to run, Flynn told colleagues: “I recently met with the supervisor and we discussed the school’s interest in participating. This is exactly what I expected to happen.”
And when Flynn wanted to expedite the hiring of Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian, he wrote to Jack Knott, the then-dean of USC’s school of public policy: “I think that to show MRT that we can deliver, it would be farsighted to send the offer letter before the holidays.
One letter stands out: a multi-page document Flynn drafted in the summer of 2017 commemorating a meeting with Ridley-Thomas weeks earlier. In the memo, Flynn outlines a sort of wish list involving business between USC and the county. One request was to address the “stalled motion” on a contract between USC and the county mental health department and for involvement in a probation office near the university.
That letter was printed and hand-delivered by one of Flynn’s colleagues, Brenda Wiewel, who left it in a sealed envelope at Ridley-Thomas’ office in the County Hall of Administration, according to her testimony.
FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins testified Friday that subsequent correspondence corroborated both Flynn’s in-person meeting with Ridley-Thomas and the veracity of the “confidential letter.”
When Flynn saw the subsequent action by supervisors regarding the probation office, he wrote to a colleague: “I spoke to Mark about this and I am very happy to see that he was as good as his word.”
But in a surprising move, especially for a case involving a private university and a giant local government agency, no Los Angeles County representatives were called to testify before the jury.
Underscoring the absence of county officials in the case, defense attorney Daralyn Durie asked the FBI agent, “Do you know what happened after Brenda Wiewel delivered the letter?”
“No,” Adkins replied.
On Friday, Dr. Jonathan Sherin, a former director of the county Mental Health Department, was scheduled to testify and was even in federal court in downtown Los Angeles.
Prosecutors had called Sherin a “critical gatekeeper” in USC’s process to secure 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 to the witness stand.
No current or former supervisors were also brought before the jury, despite FBI Agent Adkins indicating that an unspecified number of current supervisors were interviewed.
The FBI did not interview any Ridley-Thomas deputies, nor did they testify. Adkins said this was a “cost-benefit analysis” and there was little chance anyone was directly aware of the “deal” between Ridley-Thomas and Flynn.
“The deputies,” he testified, “are likely to show some level of loyalty to their boss.”