Los Angeles Mayoral candidate and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) found herself in a growing scandal Thursday amid allegations that a corrupt former Dean of University of Southern California (USC) had given her a $95,000 scholarship in exchange for helping pass legislation for more federal funding.
The dean in question, Marilyn Flynn, formerly was the dean of the USC social work program. Before the Bass allegations, Flynn had been tied to several other bribery scandals and allegations, including one with former Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Specifically, it has been alleged that, in early 2018, Ridley-Thomas gave $100,000 to the USC School of Social Work through his political campaign fund. In turn, the school’s dean, Marilyn Flynn, sent the money to a think tank run by his son. However, this raised alarm bells, ultimately revealing that it was all a scheme for his son 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. That led to the indictment of the elder Ridley-Thomas and Flynn by the US Attorney for the Central District of California in October of 2021.
However, investigations continued into 2022. And prosecutors soon zeroed in on Bass after an email from Flynn was found saying, “We will offer a full scholarship between the two schools. I did the same for Karen Bass – full scholarship for our funds.”
According to prosecutors, Flynn allegedly gave Bass a scholarship for a Master’s degree in 2011 in exchange for Bass helping pass legislation that would give more funds to private universities like USC for social work programs.
The allegations quickly hurt Bass at the polls Thursday, with pollsters noting many on the fence swinging towards Caruso because of the scholarship scandal. Bass’ opponent in the LA Mayoral race, developer Rick Caruso, said on Thursday, “Bass’ scholarship amounts to corruption and dishonesty. We cannot afford for the next mayor to govern under a cloud of corruption.”
Despite the allegations, the U.S. Attorney’s office said that, as of Thursday, Bass was not a target of their investigation into Flynn.
“At present and based on the evidence obtained to date, Rep. Bass is not a target or a subject of our office’s investigation,” noted a a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office on Thursday.
Bass denies allegations
Bass herself has also come out against the allegations, saying that there was nothing wrong with how she received her $95,000 scholarship.
“This case has nothing to do with me, other than in a middle of a political campaign, Rick Caruso is trying to take advantage,” retorted Bass on Thursday. “Everybody knows that the welfare of children and families has been a passion and policy focus of mine for decades. The only reason I studied nights and weekends for a master’s degree was to become a better advocate for children and families — period.”
Political experts note that, should the allegations continue to pick up steam, Bass’ campaign will likely take a major hit only two months before the election. Recent polls have put Bass at a commanding 12 point lead, but the scandal could halve that by the time of the next major poll – putting Caruso back within striking distance.
“Bass needs to come clean about the whole thing,” explained Jan Ives, a Washington-based local election analyst, to the Globe on Thursday. “If she is completely innocent, great, but just explain how you got the scholarship, that it was based on merit. She just keeps issuing brusque denials, and that isn’t doing her any favors. It looks suspicious to many.”
“Caruso needs to push this issue. Bass has been hammering him for awhile, and now the tables have turned. If I was with the Caruso campaign, I’d get her voting record on private university funding or funding for social work programs. Link it up with that alleged e-mail from Flynn. Then let voters connect those dots. Maybe say that, if she’s elected, she may be under fire from prosecutors over that. There’s so much they can do here with it. Especially if there is a photo of her out there with Flynn. If there is, expect that to be plastered across LA for the next two months.”
“Regardless, this is a serious allegation that needs to be looked into. Trading votes for a scholarship worth nearly $100,000 is a serious allegation.”
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