City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty Wednesday to public corruption charges only hours after his colleagues suspended him and the city controller cut off his pay.
Ridley-Thomas, 66, entered pleas to bribery, fraud and conspiracy for allegedly trying to help his son obtain a University of Southern California tuition and teaching position by offering to help steer contracts to the debt-ridden School of Social Work. He could face decades in federal prison if convicted.
Earlier, the City Council voted 11-3 to suspend Ridley-Thomas. The councilman, who earlier this week announced he would “step back” from the council but not resign, said in a statement that he was “humbled by the support of my colleagues who did not rush to judgement and disappointed in those who did.”
Ridley-Thomas also said the suspension disenfranchised residents of his council district.
In the wake of the vote, City Controller Ron Galperin said he will cut off Ridley-Thomas’s pay as of Thursday because the councilman “is no longer empowered to carry out the duties and responsibilities for which he was elected.”
The councilman’s salary is nearly $224,000 a year, the controller said.
Ridley-Thomas, a former Los Angeles County supervisor, was charged last week along with Marilyn Louise Flynn, former dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work.
Flynn, 83, has denied the allegations.
Federal prosecutors said that in 2017 and 2018, then-Supervisor Ridley-Thomas offered to support county contracts to the School of Social Work — which had a multimillion-dollar budget deficit — in exchange for helping a relative.
In return, Flynn promised to provide the relative with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship, and concocted a scheme to funnel $100,000 in Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university “to a non-profit to be operated by the relative,” according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.
The indictment referred to the relative only as “MRT Relative 1.”
However, at the time Ridley-Thomas’s son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, was a state Assembly member facing complaints of sexual harassment. He resigned the last day of 2017, citing unspecified health problems and an Assembly investigation concluded in 2019 that he had likely made an unwanted sexual advance toward a Capitol staffer.