Ex-USC dean to plead guilty in Mark Ridley-Thomas corruption case

A former dean of the USC School of Social Work is set to plead guilty Monday to a federal bribery charge in a political corruption case involving suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, of Los Feliz, admitted that she bribed Ridley-Thomas -- at the time a member of the county Board of Supervisors -- by funneling $100,000 from his campaign account through the university to a nonprofit operated by his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, according to her plea agreement signed Thursday in L.A. federal court.

In exchange, prosecutors say Ridley-Thomas voted in favor of a lucrative county contract for the USC School of Social Work.

Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to go on trial in the case Nov. 15.

Mark Ridley-Thomas (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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.

Prosecutors said the social work school was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit at the time.

According to prosecutors, then-County Supervisor 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 funding 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 university.

Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the Los Angeles City Council following the federal indictment. He is charged with one county each of conspiracy and bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud and 15 counts of honest services wire fraud.

There was no word of whether Flynn -- who was dean of the School of Social Work at USC for 21 years until her departure in 2018 -- will testify against Ridley-Thomas in his upcoming trial.

Responding to news of Flynn's plea agreement, USC issued a statement 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 served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then served 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.