A decision on whether or not the jury verdicts rendered in the March 30 conviction of former City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas for bribery, honest services and mail fraud will be set aside could come as early as this week.
After hearing attorneys for Mark Ridley-Thomas and opposing federal prosecutors argue two motions to either acquit Ridley-Thomas or grant a new trial, Judge Dale S. Fischer said she would render a decision as soon as she could.
Prerequisite to Ridley-Thomas’ August 21 sentencing and appeal, the motions—Rule 29 and Rule 33—assert that the prosecution’s case relied on false testimony, an incomplete investigation of the facts by the FBI’s lead investigator and star witness and that the government failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the verdicts. Instead, it was characterized by his legal team as “a gross miscarriage of justice.”
The motion for the new trial, referred to as a Rule 33 motion, argues that the jury’s decision in March to convict Ridley-Thomas on seven of 19 counts—conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud—was likely driven by Agent Adkins and his false or misleading testimony.
Defense attorney Galia Z. Amram stated that there was no evidence that then Supervisor Ridley-Thomas ever actually performed an official act in favor of an amendment to USC’s telehealth contract during his tenure on the Board of Supervisors.
“The government argued over and over that Mark Ridley-Thomas agreed to do an official act,” Amram said, while adding that they presented no evidence it happened.
She asserts, in essence, that Ridley-Thomas was prosecuted for not objecting to a routine, non-controversial administrative item on the board’s consent calendar.
“The government’s theory is one of omission,” she argued before a courtroom packed with Ridley-Thomas supporters including clergy, constituents, civic leaders and former staffers. “There is no case law indicated that an omission counts as an official act.”
Amram discussed at length the “value” of the Telehealth contract. Defense contends that the Telehealth contract was an administrative matter, and thus had no value. SRT, who received a scholarship and professorship from USC, met the qualifications for both – and thus had no value. Further, MRT contributed $100,000 from his campaign funds, spending the money himself with no personal benefit. Defense argued the total value of “benefits” to MRT was zero and did not meet the minimum federal bribery threshold of $5,000.
She argued that the government also failed to make the case on materiality, quid pro quo and breach of fiduciary duty.
“Mark Ridley-Thomas followed all the rules of the county,” she said, adding that federal authorities didn’t have the right to override them.
Another point of contention was an email in which Ridley-Thomas told USC Marilyn Dean, ‘Your wish is my command’. The government argued it was an official act but Amram pointed to the fact that she does not ever ask him to vote.
“What she asks for is an opportunity to speak with him,” Amram clarified.
“Mark Ridley-Thomas’ response is not a promise to do anything,” she continued. “The email had multiple things in it. She asked him to talk and her response is ‘Thank you for staying in touch.’
“The email is not an agreement to commit an official act.”
Speaking for the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson countered that “an official act is not just the vote.
“There was agreement to perform an official act which was sufficient enough to support the guilty verdict,” Dotson countered, adding that all reasonable inferences fall in favor of the jury’s verdict.
On the Rule 33 motion, Dotson stated that no errors were made during trial, and that the defense had forfeited its right to object by not raising some issues more forcefully during trial.
Absent a ruling in his favor, Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced in August.