Ridley-Thomas corruption case built on emails: ‘MRT is really trying to deliver here’

Federal prosecutors on Friday finished presenting evidence in their corruption case against suspended Los Angeles City Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, paving the way for the powerful lawmaker’s defense to share their side of the case next week.

The case focuses on votes and official actions taken by Ridley-Thomas as a member of LA County’s five-member Board of Supervisors, which prosecutors allege were favorable to USC and in exchange for benefits for his son, a former state congressman, were carried out.

Benefits Sebastian Ridley-Thomas received included admission to the School of Social Work, a full scholarship, a part-time position as a professor in USC’s social work and public policy programs, and the referral of a $100,000 donation through the university to a nonprofit he headed, prosecutors claim.

The jury in the seventh-floor courtroom heard detailed testimony about the inner workings of USC’s social work program, along with former Dean Marilyn Flynn’s efforts to ingratiate herself with Ridley-Thomas and maneuver around the university to implement her plans.

It’s a public corruption case based not on wiretaps but on emails, mostly from Flynn to subordinates or colleagues at the university and Ridley-Thomas himself.

“I’m holding my breath…MRT is really trying to deliver here,” Flynn told a professor about a potential board vote on a trial she wants to see.

Regarding a ballot before supervisors about a probation facility near USC that the university could partner with, Flynn told colleagues, “I met with the supervisor recently and we discussed the school’s interest in getting involved . This is exactly what I was hoping for.”

And when Flynn wanted to expedite the hiring of Ridley-Thomas’ son Sebastian, she wrote to Jack Knott, then dean of USC’s Public Policy School: “I think in the interest of showing MRT that we can deliver, it would be like that Looking forward to getting the offer letter out before the holidays.”

One letter stands out: a multi-page document Flynn penned in the summer of 2017, reminding her of meeting Ridley-Thomas weeks earlier. In the memo, Flynn outlines a sort of wish list that affects deals between USC and the county. One inquiry concerned the “stalled movement” 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 personally delivered by a colleague of Flynn’s, Brenda Wiewel, who she says dropped it off in a sealed envelope at Ridley-Thomas’ office in the county administration hall.

FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins testified Friday that subsequent correspondence confirmed both Flynn’s personal meeting with Ridley-Thomas and the accuracy of the “confidential letter.”

Seeing subsequent actions by supervisors regarding the Parole Office, Flynn wrote to a colleague, “I have spoken to Mark about this and I am very pleased to see that he has kept his word.”

But in a surprising move, especially for a case involving a private university and a huge local government agency, no LA County representative was called to testify before the jury.

To underscore the absence of county officials on 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 was Dr. Jonathan Sherin – the former director of the county’s mental health department – has been called as a witness and was even in the federal courthouse in downtown LA

Prosecutors had named Sherin a “critical gatekeeper” in USC’s trial to secure a coveted amendment to a mental health contract — and a gatekeeper allegedly influenced by Ridley-Thomas. The indictment in the case alleges that Ridley-Thomas “exerted pressure” on Sherin to “perform official acts conducive to the contract.”

But prosecutors eventually decided not to put Sherin on the witness stand.

Also, no current or former supervisors were brought before the jury, although FBI Agent Adkins pointed out that an unspecified number of current supervisors were interviewed.

No deputy to Ridley-Thomas was questioned by the FBI, nor did anyone testify. Adkins said this was a “cost-benefit analysis” and that it was unlikely anyone directly knew of the “agreement” between Ridley-Thomas and Flynn.

“Substitutes,” he testified, “are likely to show some level of loyalty to their boss.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-03-18/covering-up-a-sexual-harassment-investigation-drove-push-for-landing-spot-at-usc-jury-hears Ridley-Thomas corruption case built on emails: ‘MRT is really trying to deliver here’

Alley Einstein

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