Trial begins against Mark Ridley-Thomas

picture of building with beige bricks, reads "UNITED STATES COURTHOUSE" on wall. granite sign denotes address: "350 W First."
Mark Ridley-Thomas faces multiple federal charges including conspiracy and bribery. Prosecutors allege he used his position as city councilmember to pass bills favorable to USC in exchange for benefits for his son. (Omar Abd-Elhamid | Daily Trojan)

The trial for suspended Los Angeles City councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas began Tuesday morning at the First Street United States Courthouse. The L.A. politician faces federal corruption and bribery charges in relation to former Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Flynn.

At the meeting, the government and defense questioned prospective jurors for the trial, which is expected to continue until April 6. Jury selection will likely be more challenging than usual because of Ridley-Thomas’ high profile status.

District Judge Dale Fischer clarified to prospective jurors that in order to ensure an impartial trial, they were to disclose everything they know about the councilmember or any potential connection they may have that could pose a conflict of interest. Within the first few moments, one person disclosed that a close family member spoke highly of Ridley-Thomas. 

Ridley-Thomas was indicted on these charges because the prosecution alleges he conspired with Flynn to introduce, vote on and encourage others to pass bills favorable to the school in exchange for benefits for his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

The indictment alleges that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was to receive admission to a master’s program in Dworak-Peck, a full tuition scholarship and a position as a professor while enrolled in the program. University policy prohibits faculty from being degree candidates in their own department to avoid conflicts of interest.

Additionally, the charges allege Mark Ridley-Thomas intended to use the School of Social Work to funnel a $100,000 donation to his son’s nonprofit organization. University policies prohibit schools to accept and use donations in this manner.

“When the university learned in the summer of 2018 about the $100,000 payment referenced in the indictment, we disclosed the issue to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and have fully cooperated with them ever since,” wrote the University in a statement to the Daily Trojan Tuesday, declining to comment further because USC is “not a party to this matter.”

Ridley-Thomas faces one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, two counts of mail fraud, and 15 counts of wire fraud. If found guilty of all charges, he could face a maximum sentence of 355 years, although this is unlikely. The defendant has pleaded not guilty to all charges, garnering support from his community and donors who have helped him fund a high-profile legal team.