Less than a day after beleaguered Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas sent a letter saying that he would be stepping back from Council duties, the Los Angeles City Council announced on Tuesday that they would be hearing a motion to suspend him while the recent corruption and bribery allegations against him play out.
Last week, Ridley-Thomas, a fixture of LA politics since the early 90’s who has constantly battled controversies and allegations, was indicted by federal attorneys for his participation in an alleged bribery scheme during his time in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2018. Specifically, he, along with a University of Southern California (USC) Dean, Marilyn Flynn, have been charged with 20 counts each: one count of conspiracy, one count of bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud, and fifteen counts of honest services wire fraud.
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.
The elder Ridley-Thomas maintained his innocence while many, including Councilman and current LA Mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino, called for his resignation.
“I am shocked, saddened, and disgusted by the Federal bribery charges against Mark Ridley-Thomas,” tweeted Buscaino on the 13th. “These charges tarnish the reputation of the entire LA City Council, and because of that, Ridley-Thomas should immediately step down from his position.”
I am shocked, saddened, and disgusted by the Federal bribery charges against Mark Ridley-Thomas. These charges tarnish the reputation of the entire LA City Council, and because of that, Ridley-Thomas should immediately step down from his position.
— Joe Buscaino (@JoeBuscaino) October 14, 2021
A City Council Suspension Vote on Wednesday
To fight back, Ridley-Thomas then wrote a letter during the weekend, saying that he would step back from participating in all Council and Committee meetings to not be a “distraction”, while also maintaining his innocence.
“I have every intent on fighting these outrageous allegations and expect to be fully exonerated,” wrote Ridley Thomas on Monday. “Throughout my entire career, I have sought to act with the utmost ethical conviction. I look forward to resuming my participation at the earliest appropriate time.”
However, Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez introduced a motion less than a day later on Tuesday to suspend the Councilman due to the allegations. Many other Council members approved, including Councilman Mitch O’Farrell who seconded the motion.
“The City Charter allows the council to suspend any elected officer against whom felony criminal proceedings have been initiated,” said Martinez’s motion. “As acknowledged in the letter sent by Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, the City Council must be able to ‘conduct its business with minimal distractions.’ Council members have a full duty to serve this city and their districts and to make decisions on behalf of the people that elected them into office. Any action that erodes public trust or calls into question the integrity of the institution requires the Council to act to preserve that trust.”
While many Council members assured 10th district constituents that they will still be heard during this time, others, including Buscaino, continued to call for Ridley-Thomas’ resignation.
“It’s all starting to fall apart for him now,” noted Los Angeles law researcher Jill Rodriguez, who helped gather documents on Ridley-Thomas and associates in the past, to the Globe on Tuesday. “Suspension may not seem like much, but it is honestly a huge deal. It’s not a time out. It’s a serious way of them saying that they want you out and are washing their hands of what comes next. And if this heats up, goes to trial and everything, resignation will be likely. It already is likely, but way more so.
“And you have to remember, this isn’t a party issue. Both parties want him gone, and Ridley-Thomas is finding few, if any, supporters, even among Democrats and the black community in LA. It doesn’t help that this happened at USC, the same school that was a huge part in the Varsity Blues scandal. These are still just allegations, but if you look how people are treating this, it’s becoming more and more of a foregone conclusion.”
“But we also need to remember innocent until proven guilty. Just because he’s failed at ethics doesn’t mean that we have to.”
The Council is to hold a special session on Wednesday for the suspension decision, which, if successful, would bar him from all meetings, constituent services, and being unable to use Council funds of any sort.