Mark Ridley-Thomas
Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday on federal bribery and conspiracy charges, while just a few blocks from the downtown federal courthouse, his council colleagues will vote on whether to suspend him from office.

The motion to suspend Ridley-Thomas was introduced Tuesday by Council President Nury Martinez and seconded by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, the council president pro tem. The vote is scheduled to occur during a special meeting set for 11:15 a.m. The council’s regular meeting begins at 10 a.m.

Ridley-Thomas’ arraignment is scheduled for 1 p.m., although he is expected to attend the downtown federal court hearing virtually.

“The trial on the indictment has yet to take place and a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty; however, a council member who has been charged with public corruption cannot continue to exercise the powers of city office and preserve public trust,” the motion states.

If the councilman is suspended, Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin said he will cut off Ridley-Thomas’ salary payments and benefits.

“No one indicted for public corruption and suspended by the City Council should receive a taxpayer-funded salary,” Galperin said Tuesday.

In June 2020, the City Council suspended Councilman Jose Huizar from office after he was charged with felony racketeering. Less than a week later, Galperin terminated Huizar’s city salary payments.

The City Council doesn’t have the power to remove a council member from office, and Huizar refused to resign, despite calls from Mayor Eric Garcetti and his colleagues to do so. Councilman Kevin de León won a special election in March 2020 to replace Huizar, but he didn’t assume the position until Oct. 15, when the council appointed him to fill the seat that was left vacant by Huizar’s suspension.

Ridley-Thomas told his colleagues on Monday that he will “immediately step back” from participating in council and committee meetings, but he intends to remain in office and resume participating “at the earliest appropriate time.”

“I fully appreciate the importance of the council being able to conduct its business with minimal distractions. With that in mind, and with deep respect for each of you, I write to let you know of my intention to immediately step back from participating in both full council and committee meetings,” Ridley-Thomas wrote in a letter to other council members.

In a statement Friday, Ridley-Thomas said he has “no intention of resigning” his seat and is focused on fighting the charges, which do not relate to his service on the City Council, but pertain to his previous work on the county Board of Supervisors.

“Going forward, I intend to do two things: disprove the allegations leveled at me and continue the work I was elected to do — most importantly, addressing the homeless and housing crisis,” he said.

The 20-count indictment filed in Los Angeles federal court last week alleges that then-Supervisor Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, who prosecutors claim agreed to provide Ridley-Thomas’ son with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship at the university. She also allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son, former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

In exchange, the indictment alleges, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including contracts to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.

According to the indictment, the activities occurred in 2017-18, beginning when Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation in the Assembly, likely to resign from elected office and significantly in debt.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas resigned from the Assembly in 2017, although he insisted at the time that his departure was due to health reasons, not a sexual harassment probe.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas later became a professor of social work and public policy at USC — despite lacking a graduate degree. He was later terminated over questions about his original appointment and university concerns about the $100,000 that was donated from his father’s campaign funds to the School of Social Work, then directed to a nonprofit run by Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

While Mark Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon, Flynn is not set to be arraigned until Monday.

Attorneys for both have denied any wrongdoing.

Ridley-Thomas’ attorney, Michael Proctor, said that at no point in Ridley-Thomas’ political career, “not as a member of the City Council, the state Legislature or the Board of Supervisors has he abused his position for personal gain. Mark Ridley-Thomas has been in public service for 30 years, and his actions have been open to public scrutiny for a full three decades. Over those 30 years, he has demonstrated the quality of his character.”

Flynn’s attorney, Vicki I. Podberesky, said, “Marilyn Flynn has devoted her entire professional life to the field of social work. She has spent over 45 years in academia and has worked tirelessly for the improvement and betterment of the social welfare network in Los Angeles and around the country. Ms. Flynn has not committed any crime and we believe that the evidence in this case will ultimately support this conclusion.”

The 66-year-old Ridley-Thomas is a giant figure in local politics, previously serving on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then serving 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.

Councilman Joe Buscaino, who serves on the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, called for Ridley-Thomas to be surrender his council seat. Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who sits on the Homelessness and Poverty Committee, called on Ridley-Thomas to at least step down as chairman of the committee and be stripped of other committee assignments “in the short term.”

Local civil rights activists have called for patience in responding to the federal charges against Ridley-Thomas. A group of activists and residents plan to hold a news conference Wednesday morning to speak out against the council’s effort to suspend him, noting that he has already agreed to step back from council activities.

Suspending Ridley-Thomas would come at a critical time for his 10th district and the council as a whole, which is in the midst of a redistricting process that could dramatically alter the district’s boundaries. The district includes areas such as Arlington Heights, Koreatown, Leimert Park, Gramercy Park, Mid-City, Wilshire Center and Baldwin Village.

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