On Monday, 83-year-old Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of the University of Southern California’s school for social work, pleaded guilty to a single count of bribery that involved sending funds to the son of a county supervisor.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the deal saw Flynn reroute a donation from Mark Ridley-Thomas, then a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and later the Los Angeles City Council, to a nonprofit that had recently been founded by his son. Flynn did so on the promise that the deal would subsequently see the renewal of a county contract for the school’s online mental health clinic.
Flynn gave the details of the deal in a courtroom in downtown L.A., revealing that she had accepted the $100,000 donated to the university’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work by Ridley-Thomas’ campaign, only to send it to his son Sebastian’s organization. The deal also involved subsequently hiring his son as a professor with a full-tuition scholarship. The plot, Flynn admitted, was designed so that it wouldn’t be “publicly known that the money came from him.” In exchange, Ridley-Thomas would formally sign off on the contract renewal for USC’s telehealth clinic.
The plea deal was negotiated after federal prosecutors first reached out to Flynn’s defense attorneys, ultimately coming to an agreement that, in exchange for the guilty plea, Flynn will be sentenced in March of next year to home confinement and a fine of no more than $150,000.
“What drove Dean Flynn is not personal benefit or reward or personal gain,” said Vicki Podberesky, one of Flynn’s attorneys, in an attempt to justify her conduct. “Everything benefited the community and USC and social work and people who are suffering.” Podberesky added that, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, “telehealth has turned out to be quite an important tool for all of us.”
The Ridley-Thomas scandal is still ongoing after his indictment for federal corruption charges in October of 2021, with further evidence still to be revealed that could expose the involvement of additional government figures. One such figure is Congressman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is the frontrunner in Los Angeles’ mayoral race this November. Bass had previously accepted a scholarship to USC from Flynn in 2011, and later proposed legislation in Congress after receiving “input” from the dean.
Meanwhile, Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly claimed that he is innocent of all charges.
“While Ms. Flynn accepted a plea deal, that in no way means Mr. Ridley-Thomas intends to accept a plea deal,” said Galia Amram, one of his defense attorneys. “We look forward to our day in court and to clearing Councilman Ridley-Thomas’ good name — a name that his constituents have respected and relied upon for decades.”