USC, which earlier this year hired former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas as a professor of social work and public policy, has asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to conduct a criminal investigation linked to a recent $100,000 donation from a campaign fund controlled by his father, Mark Ridley-Thomas, it was reported Thursday.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, 30, joined USC after resigning from the Assembly in December, saying unspecified health problems left him no choice but to step down as he needed “an extended period of time to recuperate.”
The university, which sits in his father’s district, hired him as a professor of social work and public policy. USC also gave Ridley-Thomas, who lacked a graduate degree, a scholarship to pursue a master’s program in social work, sources familiar with the matter told the Los Angeles Times.
The unusual arrangement has come under scrutiny in recent weeks as the scandal-plagued university attempts to adopt more transparency in its affairs, according to the newspaper. Administrators launched an investigation and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was fired last month, according to The Times’ sources.
After the internal probe, USC approached the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles and told federal prosecutors it had concerns about a recent $100,000 donation from a campaign fund controlled by Mark Ridley-Thomas, The Times reported.
The gift to USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work ended up in the account of a nonprofit group outside the university run by Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, according to sources and public records, the newspaper reported.
Mack Jenkins, head of the public corruption and civil rights section at the U.S. Attorney’s office, confirmed that a lawyer for USC briefed him on the Ridley-Thomas matter and referred it “for criminal investigation,” The Times reported He declined further comment.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas’ attorney, Lance Olson, told The Times his USC admission was “based on his own merits” and went through “normal channels.” As for Ridley-Thomas’ faculty job, Olson said USC’s offer letter stated his client was hired with the “enthusiastic recommendation of the faculty.”
A lawyer for Mark Ridley-Thomas told The Times the supervisor was “surprised to learn that his donation to USC has become an issue.”
“We do not believe that it raises any legal or ethical issues, and it had nothing to do with his son’s scholarship or employment at the university,” attorney Stephen Kaufman told The Times.
USC’s board of trustees learned of Ridley-Thomas’s donation last month and were working with federal authorities, board chair Rick Caruso told The Times.
“I am disturbed and concerned by these allegations and people will be held accountable for their behavior, as appropriate,” Caruso said in a statement issued by USC.