Long-time Los Angeles politician Mark Ridley-Thomas was sentenced Monday to three years and six months in prison in his federal corruption trial.
Ridley-Thomas was on trial for voting in support of county contracts that would favor USC while accepting benefits for his son from the university.
Ridley-Thomas also faces three years of supervised release after the prison term. He was ordered to surrender to prison authorities Nov. 13.
“The entire community has been victimized by the defendant’s crimes,” U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer said during the sentencing hearing inside a packed downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Fischer added that Ridley-Thomas has committed serious crimes and has not shown remorse.’
“This was a shakedown,” prosecutors wrote in sentencing papers. “Not the kind in movies with bags of cash or threats of force. But the kind that is polite and pervasive. The kind that happens too often by sophisticated, powerful people. The kind to which society, sadly, has become so accustomed that it often goes unreported and rarely yields consequences for the offender but strikes a devastating blow to the integrity of our democratic system.”
Defense attorneys asked for a term of home confinement, community service and a fine, but no prison time. However, if incarceration was required, they requested no more than two years and three months, court papers show.
“This whole case has been devastating for the supervisor,” defense attorney Galia Amram said Monday outside the courthouse. “This is a very, very sad day.
“Dr. Ridley-Thomas’ legacy is far stronger and far bigger than this case.”
The 68-year-old Ridley-Thomas was convicted March 30, while he was a suspended member of the LA City Council, on single counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud, stemming from his time serving on the county Board of Supervisors.
Jurors, who reached their verdicts on their fifth day of deliberations in Los Angeles federal court, acquitted him of a dozen fraud counts.
In defense papers, Ridley-Thomas’ attorneys argued for a probationary sentence along the lines of the penalty handed to his co-defendant, Marilyn Flynn.
Flynn, an 84-year-old former dean of the social work school at USC who pleaded guilty to bribing the veteran politician, was sentenced last month to 18 months home confinement, and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine.
“A just sentence must consider whether imposing a significantly different sentence from that imposed on Dean Flynn lends to the appearance of vindictiveness for proceeding to trial,” according to Ridley-Thomas’ attorneys.
The final decision was up to Fischer.
In a letter filed with the court, Bernard Parks, a retired Los Angeles Police Department chief and ex-councilman — who lost to Ridley-Thomas in the 2008 race for county supervisor — said the prosecution’s recommendation of a six-year prison sentence “is too lenient.”
According to Parks, “what was missed in the sentencing recommendation was how Mr. Ridley-Thomas’ colleagues were also victimized by his crimes. He misled his colleagues by soliciting their voting support, while failing to advise them of his corrupt behavior. By doing this, he led them to the brink of corruption, which cast doubt on their honesty, integrity and opened the door for their constituents to believe they were involved in his schemes.”
Days after the conviction of suspended LA City Councilmember Mark Ridley Thomas, questions arise about the future of his seat on the council. Alex Rozier reports for the NBC4 News on April 4, 2023.
Urging the judge to impose “the highest penalty that his crimes allow,” the former police chief wrote that Ridley-Thomas’ “continued failure to accept responsibility or show remorse is also reprehensible. What’s more, he’s attempted to use his race to undermine the public’s faith in the judicial process and has encouraged others to do so as well.”
According to the prosecution, Ridley-Thomas shook down Flynn, and in doing so made his demands known: “Help me and my son in exchange for Los Angeles County business.”
Prosecutors say Flynn got the message: “Aware that lucrative County contracts and an amendment to the existing Telehealth contract hung in the balance, Flynn worked tirelessly, for over a year, to deliver seemingly any benefit and perk at her disposal to please defendant and his son.”
Ridley-Thomas has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He did not testify in his own defense during the three-week trial, but his attorneys argued repeatedly that nothing he did amounted to a crime.
Federal prosecutors based their case on a long string of emails and letters they say showed that Ridley-Thomas, one of the most formidable politicians in Los Angeles, “used his publicly-provided privileges to monetize his elected office and demand benefits for his son.”
Evidence showed that $100,000 from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign committee account was quietly funneled through USC to a nonprofit his son Sebastian was spearheading called the Policy, Research & Practice. Prosecutors said Flynn arranged the transfer to please Ridley-Thomas.
“Witness testimony and hundreds of emails admitted at trial, as well as Flynn’s admissions in her plea agreement, make clear that defendant drove and orchestrated this corrupt scheme,” prosecutors wrote.
In their argument for probation and home confinement, defense attorneys maintain there is no need to incarcerate their client.
“He has been in the public eye for decades,” his lawyers wrote. “His reputation was built on ethical community empowerment. The shame of his convictions is punishment and provides ample specific deterrence. With the felony convictions, his service in public office is over. He has lost his city council position and may lose his pension. Now nearing 70 years of age, he faces a desperately uncertain financial future. And a lengthy sentence is not needed to protect the public.”
Ridley-Thomas served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then was a member of the Assembly and state Senate before being elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020, when he returned to the City Council.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the City Council following the October 2021 federal indictment that also named Flynn as co-defendant. After the guilty verdicts, Heather Hutt was appointed as the new councilwoman from District 10.
Attorneys for Ridley-Thomas are appealing the conviction.
NBCLA’s Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this report.