Former USC dean pleads guilty in political bribery case

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LOS ANGELES — A former dean of the University of Southern California pleaded guilty Monday in a bribery case involving a powerful Los Angeles politician who promised to help send a multimillion-dollar contract to the school if his son got a scholarship and a teaching job.

Marilyn Flynn, 83, was dean of USC’s School of Social Work from 1997 to 2018. In her plea deal with federal prosecutors, Flynn said she arranged for $100,000 to be illegally funneled on behalf of Mark Ridley-Thomas in 2018, when he was on the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Flynn and Ridley-Thomas, now on the Los Angeles City Council, were indicted in the public corruption case last year. Ridley-Thomas is due to stand trial in November on charges of fraud, bribery and conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty last October, just hours after his colleagues suspended him and the city controller cut his salary.

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Federal prosecutors said Mark Ridley-Thomas offered to back a lucrative change to a county contract for USC’s School of Social Work — which had a multimillion-dollar budget deficit — in exchange for helping his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. .

Flynn promised to provide a full scholarship and a paid professorship, and devised a scheme to funnel $100,000 that Ridley-Thomas funneled from campaign funds through college to a nonprofit owned by his son, prosecutors claimed.

Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was a state councilor who resigned on the last day of 2017 amid accusations that he had made an unwelcome sexual advance on a Capitol staffer. The $100,000 went to his organization known as the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative.

He later received a $26,000 scholarship for 2018 and was offered a paid job with a $50,000 salary, even though student and teacher allegedly violated school policy, authorities said.

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“Ridley-Thomas reportedly wanted to help secure gainful employment for his family member to minimize the public impact on both of them in the wake of his sudden resignation from office,” the US law firm said in a statement last year. .

Flynn, who could have faced up to 10 years in prison, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery. Under the plea deal, prosecutors will recommend her house arrest in lieu of jail time for Flynn and a fine of no more than $150,000 if she is convicted in March.

USC was not charged with wrongdoing in the criminal case, but it further tarnished the school’s elite image, which had already been battered by a series of scandals.

USC was one of the universities embroiled in an admissions fraud scandal in which wealthy parents tried to get their undeserved children into college by falsely portraying them as star athletes. Dozens of parents and sports coaches across the country were charged and more than 50 people were convicted in the “Operation Varsity Blues” case. They include TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli.

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Last year, USC agreed to an $852 million settlement involving more than 700 women who accused the university’s longtime campus gynecologist of sexual abuse. It was thought to be a record amount for such a lawsuit. In conjunction with a previous settlement of a separate class-action suit, USC has agreed to pay out more than $1 billion for claims against Dr. George Tyndall, who has worked at the school for nearly three decades.

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