A former dean of the USC School of Social Work pleaded guilty Monday, Sept. 19, to a federal bribery charge in a political corruption case, admitting she funneled $100,000 through the university on behalf of then-County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in hopes of earning his support for a lucrative social-work contract.
Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, is scheduled to be sentenced March 20, 2023. The federal bribery charge potentially carries a term of up to 10 years behind bars. Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to go on trial in the case Nov. 15.
According to her plea agreement, in 2018, Flynn was trying to get an amendment to a contract between the School of Social Work and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health involving services provided by USC Telehealth — a clinic with USC students providing online mental health and counseling services to county-referred clients. Prosecutors said the social work school was facing a multimillion- dollar budget deficit at the time.
According to prosecutors, Ridley-Thomas in April 2018 allegedly arranged for Flynn to funnel $100,000 from his campaign account through the School of Social Work to a nonprofit operated by his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who had recently resigned from the state Assembly amid a sexual harassment probe. Prosecutors contend Mark Ridley-Thomas wanted to provide the money to support his son’s nonprofit, but didn’t want the funds linked to him or his campaign. So he agreed to provide the money to Flynn, who then sent $100,000 in university funds to the nonprofit, known as the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative.
Flynn and Ridley-Thomas allegedly concealed the arrangement from USC, knowing it would have violated university policy, prosecutors said. After the money transfer was completed, Ridley-Thomas allegedly set up a meeting in May 2018 between Flynn and a high-level county official to discuss moving forward with the amendment Flynn was seeking on the Telehealth contract. Ridley-Thomas subsequently voted in favor of the amended contract, prosecutors said. Prosecutors said earlier that the amended contract was expected to generate about $9 million a year for the School of Social Work.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas later became a professor of social work and public policy at USC — despite lacking a graduate degree. He was later terminated over questions about his original appointment and concerns by the university over the $100,000 donation. The indictment of Mark Ridley-Thomas also alleged that he conspired with Flynn to obtain a full-tuition scholarship and graduate school admission for his son.
Ridley-Thomas is charged with one count each of conspiracy and bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud and 15 counts of honest services wire fraud. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Flynn was dean of the School of Social Work at USC for 21 years until her departure in 2018. She had originally been facing the same slate of federal charges as Ridley-Thomas.
Responding to news of Flynn’s plea agreement, USC issued a statement last week saying, “USC strongly supports the School of Social Work and the role it plays in training those who serve the public good. After the university learned during the summer of 2018 about unethical conduct by the former dean, we quickly disclosed the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Marilyn Flynn has not been employed by the university since September 2018. USC is not a party to the criminal case but respects the judicial process.”
Ridley-Thomas is a giant figure in local politics, previously serving on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then serving in the state Assembly and state Senate before he was elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020 when he returned to the City Council. He has a doctorate in social ethics from USC and spent 10 years as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, beginning in 1981.
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