Not all nepotism is legal; it turns out.
Democratic City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles found this out the hard way last week when he was found guilty of seven felonies, including bribery and fraud. In an apparent scheme to help ensure a scholarship for his son to the University of Southern California and employment in the form of a teaching job, Ridley-Thomas promised to funnel millions in government dollars to the institution.
The jury’s decision marks the end of an otherwise storied career for the councilman known for his involvement in civil rights and racial issues. “When elected leaders engage in acts of corruption, our community suffers immense damage. Ridley-Thomas engaged in a corrupt conspiracy with a university dean to steer taxpayer-funded contracts to the school in exchange for benefits for his son,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. The dean in question is Marilyn Flynn, who pleaded guilty to one count of bribery last year, for her part in concocting a plan to send $100,000 of the promised funds to a nonprofit run by Councilman Ridley-Thomas’ son.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, at the time, was a state assemblyman until 2017, when he resigned amongst allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward a Capitol staff member. His organization received $100,000, and he was awarded a $26,000 graduate scholarship to attend USC and a $50,000 salary to teach at the school. Though this was a violation of the university’s policy, the school allowed it due to the promise made by his father. This is no surprise to many as the University of Southern California was one of the many institutions named in the admissions cheating scandal in which wealthy parents passed their children off as star athletes and stellar students to get them into schools they otherwise would not have been eligible for.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended in October 2021 after he was charged in the case. USC was not accused of any wrongdoing.