L.A. County supervisors order independent audit of Mark Ridley-Thomas bribery charges

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LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17, 2019 — Supervisor second district Mark Ridley-Thomas supports the motion 49-B submitted by Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Mark Ridley-Thomas was indicted last week on federal charges related to his time as a member of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will hire an outside law firm to investigate contracts that are central to federal corruption charges against a former colleague, Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas, now a Los Angeles city councilman, was charged last week along with former USC dean Marilyn Louise Flynn in a 20-count indictment alleging that he steered millions of dollars in county contracts to Flynn's department so she would help his son.

On Tuesday, the five supervisors unanimously approved the independent investigation, which will scrutinize the contracts as well as the county's current policies.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell joined the board in November 2020, replacing Ridley-Thomas in the 2nd district.

The other four supervisors — Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger — served on the board with Ridley-Thomas and approved several of the board measures in question.

“I was not aware of any impropriety — nor would I have tolerated any actions that attempt to defraud the residents of this County or damage their trust in local government," Barger said in a statement. "As someone who has worked for Los Angeles County for decades, I can say that I believe that this is an anomaly."

Solis, who authored the motion calling for the independent investigation, has not publicly addressed her role in approving the measures. Kuehl and Hahn have not addressed their roles either.

Ridley-Thomas, who served on the board from 2008 until 2020, has denied any wrongdoing and said he will fight what he termed "outrageous allegations."

He is stepping back from participating in City Council meetings and committees but will not resign, he said in a letter to council colleagues on Monday.

On Wednesday, the council will consider a proposal to suspend him.

Ridley-Thomas is accused of conspiring with Flynn, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to funnel millions in county contracts to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.

Prosecutors allege that the scheme between Ridley-Thomas and Flynn started while he was board chair in 2017.

Flynn's school was facing a major budget deficit, and she allegedly wanted Ridley-Thomas to approve millions of dollars in contracts from the county Department of Children and Family Services, the Probation Department and the Department of Mental Health, according to the indictment.

One of the requests involved expanding an existing contract for USC Telehealth to provide remote therapy to children and young people.

The supervisors unanimously approved an 18-month contract with USC Telehealth in March 2016 for $547,500.

Ridley-Thomas, Kuehl and Solis voted for the contract, along with Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich, who are no longer on the board.

On July 31, 2018, the board unanimously approved the contract's extension for $530,323, increasing the reimbursement rate to $120 per session.

Solis, Kuehl, Hahn and Barger voted for the contract, along with Ridley-Thomas.

The favors Ridley-Thomas allegedly did for Flynn also involved collaborations between USC and county agencies.

On August 1, 2017, a motion co-authored by Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl created a new center, run by the USC School of Social Work and the Probation Department, to help former inmates integrate into society.

The board unanimously approved another collaboration between the USC School of Social Work and the probation department, called Probation University, on Oct. 17, 2017, in a motion co-authored by Hahn and Ridley-Thomas.

Kuehl, Hahn, Barger and Solis, along with Ridley-Thomas, voted for both collaborations.

On Tuesday, Hahn was clear in her support for the outside investigation.

"Our former colleague deserves his day in court, so for me, this is not a rush to judgment in that respect," she said, "but in light of the serious allegations, I think this independent audit is something we need and we have to do."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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