The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-3 to suspend federally indicted City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas on Wednesday, barring the Councilman from all Council meetings, constituent services, pay, and unable to use Council funds of any sort.
Ridley-Thomas was indicted on one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud, and fifteen counts of honest services wire fraud last week along with former University of Southern California (USC) Dean Marilyn Flynn over an alleged bribery scandal dating back to his tenure as an LA County Supervisor in the late 2010’s. According to the indictment, Ridley-Thomas gave $100,000 to the USC School of Social Work through his political campaign fund. In turn, the school’s dean, Flynn, sent the money to a think tank run by his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. His son, who was a state Assemblyman from 2013 until 2017 when he resigned after sexual harassment allegations came to light, was to get benefits from USC, such as a graduate school admission and a scholarship, in exchange for the elder Ridley-Thomas to support contracts between the County and USC.
Despite Ridley-Thomas writing a letter over the weekend saying he would “step back” from his duties while the indictments played out in court, LA City Council President Nury Martinez introduced a motion on Tuesday to suspend Ridley-Thomas for his actions. Some, such as Councilman Joe Buscaino, even called for his resignation.
Following the 11-3 vote on Wednesday, Ridley-Thomas voiced his displeasure in a letter, saying that they are rushing to judgement and that they are devoiding the 10th district of any representation. Only Councilmen Mike Bonin, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson voted against Ridley-Thomas’ suspension during the meeting.
“I am humbled by the support of my colleagues who did not rush to judgement and disappointed in those who did,” said Ridley-Thomas on Wednesday. “Eleven members of this Council have stripped the constituents of the 10th District of their representation, of their voice and of their right to the services that they deserve. They have removed from action a member — and his team — who together are among the most productive and effective advocates on the crisis of homelessness.”
“Throughout my entire career, I have sought to act with the utmost ethical conviction. I will continue fighting to clear my name, and I remain confident that such will be the case. But in the interim, the council has disenfranchised the residents of the 10th District.”
Second Council member suspension in 16 months
Ridley-Thomas’ attorney, Michael Proctor, echoed his client’s words in a statement later on Wednesday, noting that “Today marks day one of due process for Mark Ridley-Thomas. While some have rushed to judgment, perhaps for political gain, we all win when we afford our brothers and sisters the constitutional entitlement to the presumption of innocence. Our lifelong public servant Mark Ridley-Thomas said today in court that he is innocent; I invite our community to breathe life into that right.”
Proctor also sent a letter to the Council and City Attorney Mike Feuer that any suspension would be “unlawful”.
While Council members didn’t immediately comment on the vote afterwards, experts noted that the decision was not unexpected and was warranted.
“It’s what most were expecting,” explained Los Angeles law researcher Jill Rodriguez to the Globe on Wednesday. “The Council can suspend people who have committed crimes while doing official duties, and being a Supervisor is certainly an official duty.”
“It really now falls to he court to decide his fate if he doesn’t resign in the meantime. It’s just not looking too good for him. He is innocent until proven guilty, but the allegations have made a lot of people distrustful towards him.”
Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin confirmed on Wednesday that the city would stop his $224,000 annual salary immediately, as well a stop all benefits due to being suspended.
“No one indicted for public corruption and suspended by the City Council should receive a taxpayer-funded salary,” said Galperin on Wednesday.
Ridley-Thomas’ suspension on Wednesday marked the second time in 16 months that the LA City Council has suspended a member, with former Councilman Jose Huizar suspended in June 2020 for indictments on bribery and racketeering charges.
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