LOS ANGELES – The former dean of the University of Southern California’s school of social work has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge that she bribed longtime politician Mark Ridley-Thomas by funneling $100,000 he provided from his campaign account through USC to a nonprofit operated by his son to obtain a lucrative county contract, the Justice Department announced today.
Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, of Los Feliz, agreed to plead guilty to one count of bribery and pay a fine of no less than $100,000. She is expected to plead guilty to the charge in the coming weeks.
Ridley-Thomas, currently a Los Angeles city councilmember who was suspended from office pending his federal criminal trial, has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud and 15 counts of honest services wire fraud in connection with a federal indictment stemming from his time as a Los Angeles County supervisor. His trial is scheduled for November 15.
According to her plea agreement, from 1997 to 2018, Flynn was a tenured faculty member at USC and the dean of its social work school. In 2018, Flynn was seeking an amendment to an existing contract between USC’s social work school and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (DMH) related to services provided by USC Telehealth. Telehealth was a clinic in which social work school students provided online mental health and counseling services to patients referred by the county. USC and the social work school received compensation in return for services rendered. According to the indictment, at the time Flynn sought the lucrative county contract amendment, the social work school was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
In April 2018, Ridley-Thomas, then serving as an elected official on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, understood Flynn wanted to secure an amended Telehealth contract with DMH and the county, the plea agreement states. He also understood that she very much wanted a meeting with a particular high-level county official to move the amended Telehealth contract forward in the county approval process.
At Ridley-Thomas’s request, Flynn agreed to have USC serve as a conduit for a $100,000 payment from his campaign account to the social work school. Per their agreement, Flynn then arranged for a nearly simultaneous $100,000 payment from USC to the United Ways of California for the benefit of the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative (PRPI), a new nonprofit initiative led by Ridley-Thomas’s son, who had recently and abruptly resigned from his elected position in the California State Assembly. According to the indictment, Ridley-Thomas’s son resigned while the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation and needed funds to support PRPI, which Ridley-Thomas hoped to supply but without any public connection to himself or his campaign account.
To facilitate their scheme, Flynn and Ridley-Thomas concealed from USC that Ridley-Thomas had directed a $100,000 payment to USC with the intent that the funds be used to support USC’s nearly simultaneous $100,000 payment to United Ways and PRPI, the plea agreement states. Had it known this fact, USC would not have approved the $100,000 payment.
To expedite the payment and meet a deadline set by Ridley-Thomas, Flynn also violated USC policy by improperly using a vendor account at USC to process the $100,000 payment. According to the plea agreement, Flynn’s use of this vendor account violated USC policy because, as she knew, United Ways and PRPI were not vendors providing services to USC. But for Flynn’s violation of USC policy, USC would have declined to make the $100,000 payment.
Immediately after Flynn informed Ridley-Thomas that the USC payment to United Ways and PRPI had been “cleared,” the plea agreement states that Ridley-Thomas facilitated a May 10, 2018 meeting between Flynn and the high-level county official to move forward expeditiously on the county’s approval of the amended Telehealth contract.
On May 11, 2018, the day United Ways and PRPI received the $100,000 check from USC, Ridley-Thomas emailed Flynn to discuss county business – in his words, to talk about “master contract stuff” and “somehow use yesterday’s ‘discussion’ to advance it [winking face emoji].”
Ridley-Thomas later voted in favor of Flynn’s desired amendment to the Telehealth contract with DMH, according to the indictment.
Upon pleading guilty, Flynn will face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend she satisfy her custodial term by way of home confinement and also have agreed to seek a fine of no more than $150,000 against Flynn.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The FBI is investigating this matter.
Assistant United States Attorneys Lindsey Greer Dotson, Ruth C. Pinkel, and Thomas F. Rybarczyk of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section are prosecuting this case.