Former city councilman and county supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, has been sentenced to 42 months (3.5 years) in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer. Ridley-Thomas was also ordered to pay $30,700 in fines and will be under supervised release for three years after completing his sentence. He was convicted earlier this year on several counts, including bribery, conspiracy, honest services mail fraud, and four counts of honest services wire fraud relative to the funneling of a $100,000 donation to United Ways through USC’s School of Social Work.
Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence in federal prison, citing abuse of his powerful elected office, failure to accept responsibility, and efforts to undermine the public’s faith in this judicial process.
“The defendant was someone who knew right from wrong and chose wrong repeatedly,” stated Assistant U.S. Attorney Lyndsey Dotson of the crime she said undermined the public’s trust in government, urging the judge to send “a powerful message to corrupt actors to police themselves.
Attorneys for Ridley-Thomas referenced the more than 130 letters of support received on behalf of Ridley-Thomas, citing the transformative things he’d done in the community —including the rebuilding of the Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital—and how he changed the lives of so many of his constituents.
“Nothing about those letters, Dr. Ridley-Thomas, or this case, is typical,” his attorneys have argued. “This is not a case about a public official diverting public funds for his own personal gain. The money at issue—a $100,000 donation from Dr. Ridley-Thomas’s ballot committee account—went to fund a non-profit devoted to ensuring that the voice of African American voters would be represented in political polling.
“We have the government asking for six years when this office recommended far less for [former L.A. City Councilmember] Mitch Englander in this very courthouse,” MRT Attorney Galia Amram stated.
“Whatever you think of what Mark Ridley-Thomas did,” Amram continued, “this is a very different case in which a person was bribed with his own money,” adding that that government had presented no evidence of any pressure put on fellow L.A. Country supervisors to vote for the Telehealth contract by Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas, and that the motion would have passed absent MRT’s vote.
The judge, however, sided with the prosecution in her assessment of the case, stating that “Dr. Ridley-Thomas was desperate to gain direct benefits for his son” when he fraudulently funneled money through USC to the United Ways, betraying his office in the process.
In doling out her sentence, Fischer also remarked that Ridley-Thomas had “committed serious crimes and had not accepted responsibility or demonstrated remorse.”
Ridley-Thomas—who had not spoken publicly on the case—addressed the court for the first time. Below is his full statement:
Good morning, Your Honor, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the Court. I’ve had a full and intense twenty months, to reflect on the circumstance in which I find myself. It is true that I have chosen to exercise my constitutional rights as a citizen to offer the best possible defense for myself.
But I feel that it’s important, Your Honor, to make it clear to you that I in no way want to convey anything but respect for you, and for this Court. Further, I want to assure you that when this is completed I will accept the outcome of this judicial process and give full and respectful compliance in accordance with the law.
Your Honor, I believe it’s fair to say that this case exists somewhere between what is clearly legal conduct on one end, and clearly illegal conduct on the other. In between there is a line that distinguishes actions that are illegal — and actions that may be ill-advised, but NOT illegal.
While I definitely disagree as to whether I crossed that line into illegal conduct, I acknowledge with clarity where I belonged was at the end of the spectrum where there would be little, if any, question of even the appearance of unlawfulness. The very perception that I deviated from proper conduct in this matter is truly distressing as well as harmful, and I deeply regret it.
My actions — and the fallout from those actions — have hurt my family, beginning with my wife of 44 years who should never have had to go through and ordeal like this. I apologize to her with every breath and with my whole heart. And I apologize to my sons, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, as well as other family members whose lives have been disrupted and traumatically impacted.
Additionally, the anguish that I feel causes me to say I’m so sorry to all of my constituents, colleagues and employees who have believed in me for many years, but who may now have doubts. I sincerely apologize to them not only for playing a role in bringing about those doubts — but also for no longer being able to be there for them in service. I can only trust and believe that the future will afford me the opportunities to continue to find ways to serve them and their families, to remove doubt and to restore faith.
Your Honor I give you, and my former constituents, on all those here today and all those here today my pledge that I will find a way to continue to learn from this devastating experience, to emerge from it as a more conscientious person, and to go forward once this is behind us with humility, with renewed commitment to service and with undaunted hope for a purposeful life dedicated to the communities who rightfully expect and deserve the very best of me.”
“It’s a very sad day, said Cornel West characterizing MRT as one of the greatest elected officials to have ever served this state.”
Speaking for the South Los Angeles Clergy for Public Accountability,” Pastor Norman Johnson agreed.
“No victim has come forward to say Mark Ridley-Thomas harmed them. He received no personal benefits. He is no threat to the community. His 30-year history of public service is unparalleled in its servant leadership.
“Contrary to the claims of the prosecution, we are not blind loyalists or naïve,” Johnson continued. “We recognize the historic limitations of the U.S. judicial process when it involves Black people. All too often, it is less than favorable, balanced, fair and proportionate.
“Based on the evidence, including the acquittals, we support MRT’s appeal of the guilty verdict and the excessive sentence. Neither the conviction nor the sentence serves the interest of justice. This case should have never been pursued.”
L.A. County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell echoed the sentiments of many in the community upon hearing the news of Ridley-Thomas’ sentencing.
“From the initial allegations to the sentencing – as a fellow Angeleno and friend – I have been deeply saddened for Mr. Ridley-Thomas, his family, and our entire community,” Mitchell said. “This heartbreaking outcome does not negate his unwavering love and commitment to the Black community. His 40+ years of service has benefited every Angeleno and won’t be forgotten, nor will it be ignored when reflecting on the impact of his leadership.”
In July, former USC Dean Marilyn Flynn to three-years’ probation—including 18 months of electronically-monitored home confinement—and a fine of $150,000 for her role in the high-profile corruption case.
Ridley-Thomas has been ordered to surrender to authorities by noon on November 13, 2023. Attorneys for Ridley-Thomas have said that their client would pursue an appeal.