Former LA city official gets 42 months in jail (and he's just the latest Democrat to be busted)

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LOS ANGELES, CA - A former high-ranking Los Angeles political figure has been sentenced to 42 months in prison, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Mark Ridley-Thomas was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, the presiding judge from Ridley-Thomas’s March trial. Aside from the 42-month prison term, Ridley-Thomas will have to pay a $30,00 fine and serve three years of supervised release after his term ends.

“Ridley-Thomas has committed serious crimes, has not accepted responsibility, and has shown no remorse,” the judge said. “There is simply no justification for monetizing one’s office.”

Ridley-Thomas, 68, had sought a sentence that spared him prison time and instead required he be placed on probation and other alternatives to incarceration. Federal probation officials had recommended an 18-month prison term. Public corruption prosecutors out of the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney’s office had requested a six-year term.

In handing down the fairly lengthy sentence, Judge Fischer and prosecutors hoped it would send a message that public corruption will not be taken lightly, with Fischer remarking, “The entire community has been victimized by the defendant’s crimes.”

A jury convicted Ridley-Thomas of seven felonies, including bribery, conspiracy, four counts of honest services wire fraud, and one count of honest services mail fraud. The scheme involved him receiving benefits from the University of Southern California (USC) for himself and his son while he served on the LA County Board of Supervisors. Ridley-Thomas was acquitted of 12 other charges related to a scholarship and professorship his son, Sebastian, received from USC.

“This was not a mistake,” Fischer said. “He has a PhD in social ethics. He knew he was wrong.”

Before the sentence was handed down, Ridley-Thomas apologized to his wife, sons, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren “whose lives have been disrupted and traumatically impacted.” He denied breaking the law; however, he said he regretted his conduct.

“This case exists somewhere between what is clearly legal conduct on one end and clearly illegal conduct on the other,” Ridley-Thomas said, equivocating. “While I definitely disagree as to whether I crossed that line into illegal conduct, I acknowledge with clarity where I belonged was at the end of the spectrum where there would be little if any, question of even the appearance of unlawfulness.”

Supporters of the former supervisor have accused the FBI and prosecutors of dishonesty and going too far, with some suggesting anti-black racism is a motivating factor in the case. Some have publicly questioned the jury foreperson’s account of how jurors their guilty verdict.

On Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson told the court that Ridley-Thomas’ actions were the equivalent of “boardroom corruption”—which she defined as a more “polite” and “sophisticated” kind of corruption that “is very hard to root out,” compared to “back alley corruption” involving sleazy cash bribes, such as was the case of recent prosecutions involving LA City Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander,” the Times wrote.

The hearing, which lasted nearly two hours, concluded with many Ridley-Thomas supporters who filled the room, "somber and stunned,” with some “wiping away tears.”

One of his twin sons, Sinclair, told reporters his family was “deeply disappointed in the current state of affairs.”

“It’s a sad day for everyone,” defense attorney Galia Amram said. She said her client will pursue an appeal and “regrets deeply that his actions caused anyone to think that he crossed the line.”

“While we respect the jury’s decision at trial and the court’s decision today, there are significant legal issues that need to be addressed on appeal,” Amram said.

Among those who attended in support of Ridley-Thomas was Cornel West, a frequent critic of Republicans and Democrats, who has launched a third-party bid for the presidency. West, who sat in the front row, described Ridley-Thomas as his “dear brother for life” and defined him as “one of the greatest public servants in the history of this state.”

Ridley-Thomas was long a powerhouse in Los Angeles politics, having won nine successive elections as a council member, state assemblyman, state senator, county supervisor, and finally back to the council. He strongly advocated for black California politicians and was credited with “forming a political machine that stretched from Sacramento to L.A. to Washington, D.C."

While Ridley-Thomas defenders attempted to portray him as a “good and honorable man,” that stood in sharp contrast to the picture painted by federal prosecutors, who said he was the architect of a “shakedown” whereby he tried to “enrich his family.”

“He capitalized on the power of his elected office for personal gain. He lied, cheated, and deceived, repeatedly,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo. “He was uniquely positioned to serve his constituents. Instead, he served himself.”

Ridley-Thomas was accused of concocting a scheme when he redirected $100,000 from his campaign coffers to USC, then asked the school’s social work school dean to transfer the funds to a nonprofit run by his son. The dean, Marilyn Flynn, pushed Ridley-Thomas to help renew a county contract, which Ridley-Thomas voted for several months later.

Evidence was also put forth by prosecutors alleging Ridley-Thomas was motivated in part by an effort to shield his son and himself from a scandal involving sexual harassment. His son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, served in the California State Assembly but was forced to resign due to the sexual harassment allegations.

“The many letters I received show that his service to the community has been truly extraordinary,” Fischer said at the sentencing hearing. However, she noted that despite his good works, that didn’t justify a light sentence of only probation. She stated a lesser sentence “would be an invitation to other public servants to betray the trust the public places in them.”

In trying Ridley-Thomas, federal prosecutors amassed a treasure trove of evidence from USC and his AOL email inbox.

Among the evidence was correspondence between Flynn and Ridley-Thomas that showed the two acting in concert to benefit Ridley-Thomas’ son’s nonprofit and attempted to hide the original source.

For example, in May 2018, Ridley-Thomas sent a $100,000 donation to USC, advising Flynn in a letter the “funds can be used at your discretion.” That was followed up the next day with bank wire instructions describing how the $100,000 should be spent.

“At this point, it is necessary to act with dispatch,” he wrote. After being told the money was routed to his son’s nonprofit, Ridley-Thomas wrote Flynn, saying, “I repeat: You’re the best!!!”

At the same time, Flynn told a colleague she had done a “favor” to renew a remote mental health contract USC secured from LA County.

The apparent quid pro quo was only a tiny part of an overall corruption scheme alleged by prosecutors. Ridley-Thomas was also accused of using his elected position to gain admission for his son to USC, which included a full scholarship and a professorship. Jurors, however, acquitted him of all charges related to that scheme.

The Times noted that Ridley-Thomas was supported financially throughout his criminal case by a combination of personal funds along with donations from friends and allies, leading to over $1.5 million in combined funds during the trial.

He is scheduled to report to prison on Nov. 13; however, that is pending his appeal.
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