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Former L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas Sentenced to 3-Plus Years in Prison

Los Angeles County politician Mark Ridley-Thomas sentenced to prison for accepting benefits while favoring USC in county contracts.

In a shocking turn of events, prominent Los Angeles County politician Mark Ridley-Thomas has been sentenced to three years and six months in prison. This comes after he was found guilty of voting in favor of county contracts that would benefit USC while accepting benefits for his son from the university. The prosecutors described this as a "shakedown" that was not the typical kind seen in movies with bags of cash or threats of force, but rather a polite and pervasive form of corruption that is all too common among powerful individuals.

Defense attorneys argued for a more lenient sentence, suggesting home confinement, community service, and a fine instead of prison time. However, if imprisonment was deemed necessary, they requested no more than two years and three months. Ridley-Thomas, a fixture in local politics for the past 30 years, was convicted on charges of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud, and honest services wire fraud stemming from his time on the county Board of Supervisors.

Ridley-Thomas is not the first Los Angeles city councilman to face federal charges in recent years. Former council members José Huizar and Mitchell Englander have also faced legal troubles. Huizar was arrested on racketeering charges in 2020, while Englander was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison in 2021 for obstructing a public-corruption investigation.

The jury in Ridley-Thomas' case deliberated for five days before reaching their verdict. They acquitted him of a dozen fraud counts but found him guilty on the charges related to his involvement with USC and his son's benefits. In defense papers, Ridley-Thomas' attorneys argued for a probationary sentence similar to that given to his co-defendant, Marilyn Flynn.

Flynn, the former dean of USC's School of Social Work, pleaded guilty to bribing Ridley-Thomas and was sentenced to 18 months of home confinement and a $150,000 fine. Ridley-Thomas' attorneys argued that a significantly different sentence would appear vindictive and questioned whether it would be fair considering Flynn's punishment.

Ridley-Thomas is currently appealing his conviction. The FBI, which investigated the case, emphasized the importance of targeting corruption to restore trust in government. They stated that Ridley-Thomas' actions served his own interests and those of his family member, rather than the people he was elected to serve.

The Department of Justice provided a detailed synopsis of the case, outlining how Ridley-Thomas conspired with Flynn to secure positions and benefits for his son. Ridley-Thomas orchestrated a media and legal campaign to divert attention from his son's sexual harassment investigation in the California State Assembly. He sought "landing spots" for his son, including prestigious titles, advanced degrees, and paying jobs, while Flynn needed his help obtaining county contracts.

Flynn ultimately met Ridley-Thomas' demands by providing his son with various opportunities. In return, Ridley-Thomas supported an amendment to a county contract with USC, benefiting the university financially. He also supported other contracts involving USC's School of Social Work. The scheme involved concealing their arrangement and lying to USC about the purpose of a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas' campaign funds. USC would not have accepted the donation or approved subsequent payments if they had known the truth.

This case highlights the serious consequences of corruption in politics and the need for accountability. It serves as a reminder that those in positions of power must prioritize the interests of the people they serve, rather than their own personal gain. The conviction of Ridley-Thomas sends a strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated and that the integrity of our democratic system must be protected.

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