By Aaron Mendelson and Libby Denkmann/LAist
Originally published Oct 14, 2021
Wednesday’s indictment of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas makes him the third current or former L.A. councilmember to face corruption charges in just the last two years.
Here’s a summary of the cases to date:
Mark Ridley-Thomas Indictment
The 20-count indictment accuses Ridley-Thomas of conspiring with former USC School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Louise Flynn to provide his son, former Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, with grad school admission, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship. In return, prosecutors allege that Ridley-Thomas steered lucrative county contracts to the school, in his then-role as a member of the Board of Supervisors.
His lawyer has denied the allegations. Flynn’s lawyer said she “has not committed any crime.”
Ridley-Thomas’ indictment follows those of José Huizar and Mitch Englander, who were both implicated in an FBI probe of corruption at City Hall. In addition to the elected officials, other former city staff, consultants and lobbyists have agreed to plead guilty in the probe, dubbed Operation Casino Loyale.
Michael J. Proctor, an attorney for the councilmember, said in a statement:
“Mark Ridley-Thomas was shocked by the federal allegations leveled against him, and with good reason. They are wrong, and we look forward to disproving them.”
Vicki Podberesky, Flynn’s lawyer, said in a statement that her client “has not committed any crime and we believe that the evidence in this case will ultimately support this conclusion.”
USC also issued a statement saying that when the school learned in the summer of 2018 about the alleged $100,000 payment involving Ridley-Thomas, “the university disclosed the issue to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and has fully cooperated ever since.”
It noted that Flynn has not worked at USC since Sept. 2018, and that the university “will continue to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and must limit comments because this is a pending criminal matter.”
José Huizar’s Alleged Pay-To-Play Scheme
Huizar is facing dozens of federal charges. He’s accused of running a criminal operation and enriching himself by leveraging his powerful position as chairman of the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, a chokepoint for development projects in the city. He was arrested and charged in June 2020.
Prosecutors say Huizar accepted at least $1.5 million in gifts, campaign donations and cash bribes to clear the way for real estate projects in a downtown L.A. portion of his former district. He has pleaded “not guilty” and the case is expected to head to trial, with federal public defenders representing Huizar.
Like Ridley-Thomas, Huizar’s alleged corruption was tied to a family member. Facing a term limit, he was allegedly seeking to curry favor and raise money for a city council bid for his wife. She withdrew her candidacy after the FBI searched the Huizar home in Boyle Heights in Nov. 2018.
Mitch Englander: Envelopes Of Cash And A Guilty Plea
Former 12th District Councilmember Mitch Englander was also indicted as a result of the FBI probe. The feds alleged that Englander tried desperately to cover up the fact that a businessman gave him envelopes of cash in a casino bathroom, plus “female escort services, hotel rooms and expensive meals … during trips to Las Vegas and Palm Springs.”
Englander faced more than a half-dozen federal charges, also tied to his role in real estate development projects. In January, he pleaded guilty to a single count of scheming to obstruct an FBI investigation and was sentenced to 14 months in prison. He also had to pay a $15,000 fine and undergo three years of supervised release after his prison term.
Two other current members of the city council, Curren Price and John Lee, have been named in the FBI probe. Neither has been charged with any crime.
Price was named in an FBI warrant seeking evidence in its corruption investigation, but it didn’t say there was evidence of criminal activity by Price.
Lee was Mitch Englander’s chief of staff, and accompanied his then-boss on the Las Vegas trip during which prosecutors said Englander accepted illegal perks.
Because Englander’s indictment was unsealed on March 9, 2020, voters were not aware of Lee’s involvement in the trip when they elected him to a four-year term a week earlier. Lee has said he was unaware of the illegal activities and that he has cooperated with the FBI.
The City Hall corruption probe appears to have been separate from the FBI investigation into Ridley-Thomas.
This report is reprinted with permission from Southern California Public Radio. © 2021 Southern California Public Radio. All rights reserved.
Have a Boyle Heights or East LA event? Post it on our free community calendar. Just click here and fill out the online form.