Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was sentenced Monday, Aug. 28, to three years and six months in federal prison for voting in support of county contracts that would favor USC while accepting benefits for his son from the university.
“The entire community has been victimized by the defendant’s crimes,” U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer said during the sentencing hearing. Fischer added that Ridley-Thomas “has committed serious crimes, has not accepted responsibility and has shown no remorse.”
In addition to the prison time, Ridley-Thomas was ordered to serve three years on supervised release once he completes his prison time. He also must pay an assessment and fines of $30,700. Ridley-Thomas spoke during the hearing, again insisting he did not do anything illegal, but he apologized to his family and constituents for causing the “perception that I deviated from proper conduct.” He said the actions he took that resulted in his conviction were “ill-advised, but not illegal.”
Ridley-Thomas was ordered to report to prison on Nov. 13. He showed no reaction as the sentence was imposed. Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Ridley-Thomas to six years behind bars, writing in a sentencing memorandum that he took part in “a shakedown.”
“Not the kind in movies with bags of cash or threats of force. But the kind that is polite and pervasive. The kind that happens too often by sophisticated, powerful people. The kind to which society, sadly, has become so accustomed that it often goes unreported and rarely yields consequences for the offender but strikes a devastating blow to the integrity of our democratic system,” prosecutors wrote. Defense attorneys had asked for a term of home confinement, community service and a fine, but no prison time. However, if incarceration was required, they recommended no more than two years and three months, court papers show.
The 68-year-old Ridley-Thomas was convicted March 30 on single counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud, stemming from his time serving on the county Board of Supervisors. Jurors, who reached their verdicts on their fifth day of deliberations in federal court, acquitted him of a dozen fraud counts.
In a letter referenced by the judge, Bernard Parks –– a retired Los Angeles Police Department chief who lost to Ridley-Thomas in the 2008 race for county supervisor — wrote to the court that the prosecution’s recommendation of a six-year prison sentence “is too lenient” and requested the maximum term. According to Parks, “what was missed in the sentencing recommendation was how Mr. Ridley-Thomas’ colleagues were also victimized by his crimes. He misled his colleagues by soliciting their voting support, while failing to advise them of his corrupt behavior. By doing this, he led them to the brink of corruption, which cast doubt on their honesty, integrity and opened the door for their constituents to believe they were involved in his schemes.”
Urging the judge to impose “the highest penalty that his crimes allow,” Parks wrote that Ridley-Thomas’ “continued failure to accept responsibility or show remorse is also reprehensible. What’s more, he’s attempted to use his race to undermine the public’s faith in the judicial process and has encouraged others to do so as well.” Parks, like Ridley-Thomas, is Black.
Ridley-Thomas vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He did not testify in his own defense during the 12-day trial, but his attorneys argued repeatedly that nothing he did amounted to a crime. Federal prosecutors based their case on a long string of emails and letters they say showed that Ridley-Thomas “used his publicly-provided privileges to monetize his elected office and demand benefits for his son.”
Evidence showed that $100,000 from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign committee account was quietly funneled through USC to a nonprofit his son Sebastian was spearheading called Policy, Research & Practice.
In their argument for probation and home confinement, defense attorneys maintained there was no need to incarcerate their client. “He has been in the public eye for decades,” his lawyers wrote. “His reputation was built on ethical community empowerment. The shame of his convictions is punishment and provides ample specific deterrence.
Ridley-Thomas served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then was a member of the Assembly and state Senate before being elected to the county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020. Attorneys for Ridley-Thomas said they would appeal the conviction and suggested outside court that there are “significant issues” to be addressed.
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