Ex-USC Social Work Dean Pleads Guilty in Mark Ridley-Thomas Bribery Case


Marilyn Flynn, who ran USC’s social work school for more than two decades, appeared to be the university’s model dean.

She launched a unique military social work program and received millions of dollars in congressional grants for research on veterans and their families. She made USC the first university to offer a master’s degree in social work online, using generous grants to support prominent students such as Rep. to bring in Karen Bass. Under her tenure, enrollment grew from approximately 500 to 3,500, making USC the largest social work program in the world.

The former USC provost praised Flynn as “innovative and enterprising.” Flynn described himself as an institution builder who helped “bring new, ignored or even banned possibilities to the fore”.

But that quest for growth led to a series of problems: a financial crisis, aggressive student recruitment, diluted academic standards, and a corruption scandal involving one of LA County’s most powerful politicians.

Flynn, 83, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of bribery, admitting that in her desire to secure the renewal of a LA County contract for USC’s online mental health clinic, she had agreed to take money from the then-supervisor. Mark Ridley-Thomas after his son’s newly formed nonprofit.

Appearing in a courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, Flynn said she accepted $100,000 from Ridley-Thomas’ political campaign and in turn had USC transfer the money to his son’s group — an arrangement that prevented “public disclosure.” that became his money.”

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Flynn said Ridley-Thomas knew she wanted her contract for the USC’s telehealth clinic approved, and that she needed the green light from a senior LA County official to close the deal. Flynn said she agreed to send the money to Ridley-Thomas because I “implicitly understood” that he would help her set up that meeting.

After Flynn told her behavior, U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer asked, “How do you plead?”

“I plead guilty,” replied the former dean.

Vicki Podberesky, one of Flynn’s attorneys, said federal prosecutors had been in touch in recent weeks to negotiate the plea deal. As part of the agreement, prosecutors at the sentencing scheduled for March 2023 will recommend that Flynn be sentenced to house arrest and a fine of no more than $150,000.

Under the terms and conditions, she is not required to testify or cooperate.

“What drove Dean Flynn is not personal benefit or reward or personal gain,” Podberesky said. “Everything benefited the community and the USC and the social work and the people who are suffering.”

Citing the impact of the pandemic on healthcare and the wider adoption of virtual appointments, Podberesky called her client a “visionary,” adding, “Telehealth has proven to be a pretty important tool for all of us.”

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Flynn had faced multiple counts in what prosecutors characterized as a complex corruption conspiracy involving Ridley-Thomas. A trial for the pair was scheduled for November 15.

Both would be involved in a consideration, with Flynn sending away the $100,000 for Ridley-Thomas, but also working to admit his son, Sebastian, and give him a full scholarship and hire him as a professor. In return, prosecutors say Ridley-Thomas has pursued favorable and lucrative county contracts that Flynn sought.

Flynn’s plea is a blow to Ridley-Thomas’ reputation as his co-defendant now admits to participating in a bribery scheme in which both had an “implicit” agreement.

But the guilty verdict also accomplishes what Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers had unsuccessfully sought earlier this summer when they filed a petition to drop the case and have the two appear separately before a jury.

Without Flynn at the defense table alongside Ridley-Thomas, the trial will likely be narrower later this year, with fewer testimonies about USC’s inner workings and more focused on LA County’s vast bureaucracy.

But prosecutors could still add evidence regarding Bass (D-Los Angeles), now a frontrunner for mayor. The congresswoman accepted a full scholarship from Flynn in 2011 during her first term in office and later proposed legislation with “input” from the dean. The US law firm in LA said earlier this month that Bass was not a “target or subject of our firm’s investigation.”

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When Ridley-Thomas sought to separate his case from Flynn, his lawyers argued that the Bass scholarship was older than the charges in the case and had nothing to do with him. Prosecutors responded by saying evidence of Bass’ scholarship “would be admissible in a broken trial,” showing the broader context of alleged corruption.

“Restrictive instructions are more than enough to advise the jury on how to assess that evidence,” the prosecutors wrote in a lawsuit in July.

Ridley-Thomas’ attorneys said in a statement Monday that the agreement signed by Flynn makes “erroneous assumptions” about their client’s thoughts and goals when dealing with USC.

Councilor Ridley-Thomas continues to maintain his innocence regarding the misguided charges levied against him by the government. Although Ms Flynn accepted a plea deal, that in no way means Mr Ridley-Thomas intends to accept a plea deal,” said Galia Amram, one of his attorneys.

“We look forward to our day in court clearing Councilman Ridley-Thomas’ good name – a name his voters have respected and relied on for decades.”


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