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Los Angeles politician Mark Ridley-Thomas sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for USC bribery
More than 100 people showed up to support Ridley-Thomas. The judge said his 'extraordinary' public service warranted more leniency than prosecutors sought.
A federal judge on Monday sentenced Los Angeles political stalwart Mark Ridley-Thomas to 3 1/2 years in prison for a public corruption bribery scheme with the University of Southern California that was aimed at salvaging his son’s public policy career and protecting his own, calling his crimes “serious” and rejecting his lawyer’s request for a sentence of only probation.
Ridley-Thomas, 68, will remain free until Nov. 13, when he’s to report to the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles for transport to a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility. U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer originally scheduled his report date for Nov. 6, but she pushed it back a week after his lawyers told her that’s Ridley-Thomas’ birthday.
More than 100 people watched the sentencing in the courtroom and via video from a neighboring courtroom. The approximately 90-minute hearing included argument from prosecutors and Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers, as well as an allocution from Ridley-Thomas.
“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,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Judge Fischer said “first and most obviously, the entire community has been victimized” by Ridley-Thomas’ crimes “as the community always is when the trust placed in a public official has been betrayed.”
When public officials act corruptly, “especially one as well known and well respected as Dr. Ridley-Thomas, the public’s view of its elected officials as a group suffers, and its trust in their integrity is eroded,” Fischer said, calling Ridley-Thomas “one of the most formidable politicians in Los Angeles.”
The judge remarked on the “extraordinary level of support he maintains despite these charges and convictions” and said Ridley-Thomas “has dedicated his lives to his constituency and helping his community in numerous ways.”
“But being a very good friend, mentor and family member is not deserving of a variance. In this job, judges see a lot of very good people who inexplicably do very bad things. Dr. Ridley-Thomas is one of them,” Fischer said. She said Ridley-Thomas “betrayed his office and his constituents to serve the needs at least of his son, if not for himself and his own ambition.” She also said he’s failed to accept responsibility or show remorse.
She said Ridley-Thomas’ actions were “not a mistake” and referenced his doctorate in social ethics.
“He knew it was wrong,” the judge said.
Fischer said Ridley-Thomas “has done an enormous amount of good for this community” and has been rewarded with family, friends “and a portion of the population that refuses to accept the verdict of guilty.”
“I agree his extraordinary service is a mitigating factor,” Fischer said.
The judge said Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers have mischaracterized the case, and she emphasized the need for a significant custodial sentence. A probation sentence or anything other than “a significant” prison sentence would be “an invitation to other public servants to betray the trust the public places in them, not a deterrent.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson told Fischer on Monday, “There are two types of corruption in this world: There’s the back alley corruption and there’s the boardroom corruption.”
She urged Fischer to “send a powerful deterrent message that no one, no matter how powerful you are, is above the law.”
In addition to 42 months in prison, Ridley-Thomas must pay a $30,000 fine and serve three years of probation after he’s released.
Judge Fischer sentenced Ridley-Thomas’ co-defendant, former USC School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Flynn, on July 24 to 18 months of home confinement, 36 months of probation and a $150,000 fine after Flynn pleaded guilty in September 2022 to a single count of bribery.
Flynn, 84, admitted to trying to influence Ridley-Thomas in his elected position as chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, through a scheme involving Los Angeles County’s contract for Telehealth virtual counseling services.
As prosecutors told it in Ridley-Thomas’ trial, Flynn hatched a secret deal with the longtime politician over his support for looping her school into lucrative Telehealth services, in exchange for Flynn funneling $100,000 of Ridley-Thomas’ campaign money through USC to United Ways of California. The money ultimately went to a new nonprofit Ridley-Thomas’ son Sebastian was operating in the wake of his resignation from the California State Assembly amid a sexual harassment investigation.
A jury on March 30 convicted Ridley-Thomas of single counts of bribery and conspiracy, as well as four counts of honest services wire fraud and a single count of honest services mail fraud. Jurors couldn’t agreed that Sebastian’s USC admission, scholarship and professorship were part of a conspiracy, which resulted in not guilty verdicts for one count of honest services mail fraud and 11 counts of honest services wire fraud because those counts were related to the scholarship and job.
Ridley-Thomas was removed from the Los Angeles City Council after the verdict.
In its recommendation for an 18-month sentence, the U.S. Probation Office said there “appears to be insufficient information” that the USC scholarship and job offered to Ridley-Thomas’ son were connected to the bribe, but Fischer said on Monday that the probation officer “did not attend the trial.”
“Both the defense and the probation officer are clearly wrong,” the judge said, noting that “acquitted conduct” can be used to determine a sentence, but doing so in Ridley-Thomas’ case “would cast doubt on the fairness of the proceedings, and I decline to do so.”
Still, the judge said she believes prosecutors proved the allegations with “clear and convincing evidence.”
Fischer also called the $100,000 “a sham contribution” and said, “Contrary to the false narrative created by Dr. Ridley-Thomas, the money was not to be used by USC.”
The judge said Ridley-Thomas “convinced Dean Flynn that unless she did his bidding” by giving benefits to his son, he wouldn’t support the Telehealth contract amendment that would financially benefit her school.
“That might have been a lie because he intended to support it anyway, but Dean Flynn was so sufficiently convinced that she was willing to risk prison and the end of her own career,” said Fischer, reading aloud a written statement.
She said Ridley-Thomas’ claim that he’s here because he supported the Telehealth contract is “not true.” Instead, Ridley-Thomas is in the situation he’s in, Fischer said, because the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he bribed Flynn “not for bags of cash, but for benefits for his son.”
Fischer agreed with prosecutors and the U.S. Probation Office that the value of Ridley-Thomas’ bribe is $530,323, which is the value of the Telehealth contract.
She also rejected an argument made in court by Galia Z. Amram of Morrison & Foerster LLP on Monday that prosecutors violated their duty of candor to the court by putting the contract value at $530,323 in Ridley-Thomas’ case but $100,000 in Flynn’s case.
That gave Ridley-Thomas a standard range of 97 months to 121 months in prison, but Fischer agreed to reduce his offense level under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines in accordance with a proposed amendment that, if adopted, will allow the same reduction for all defendants with no criminal history. That put Ridley-Thomas’ sentencing range at 78 months to 97 months. From there, Fischer imposed a reduced sentence of 42 months in accordance with a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed the Guidelines advisory only.
After the hearing, Amram told reporters “this whole case has been devastated for the supervisor, his family, his constituents and all of Los Angeles.”
“Today is a very, very sad day,” Amram said. She said Ridley-Thomas’ legacy “is far stronger and far bigger than this case.”
“He has spent 30 years devoted to helping protect, house and defend the most vulnerable people in Los Angeles. And that legacy will last far beyond today,” Amram said. She said “significant legal issues” will be addressed upon appeal.
Ridley-Thomas was originally represented by a team from Durie’s boutique Durie Tangri, led by longtime trial lawyer Michael Proctor. But Proctor opened his own firm after Durie Tangri LLP joined Morrison Foerster in January, and he didn’t take Ridley-Thomas’s case with him.
Durie was Ridley-Thomas’ lead trial counsel but did not attend Monday’s hearing, which Judge Fischer rescheduled from last week on a few days notice.
Ridley-Thomas’ son Sinclair also spoke after the hearing, saying his family is “deeply disappointed in the current state of affairs related to proceedings in Mark Ridley-Thomas’ trial.”
Ridley-Thomas’ friend Cornel West, whose seeking the Green Party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency, said, “I just want people to know that Mark Ridley-Thomas is my dear brother forever, and his integrity cannot be called into question by legal proceedings.”
Martin Estrada, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, highlighted Judge Fischer’s comments about Ridley-Thomas’ crimes not being victimless. The victims were “not just the public, but also USC, and United Way charities.”
“This type of behavior by high-ranking elected officials will not be tolerated. We the people — the constituents, the community that the defendant was elected to serve — deserve much better,” Estrada said. He said Ridley-Thomas’ sentence “shows that the law has meaning” and “gives notice” to public officials of the consequences of corruption.
“Public corruption will not be tolerated,” Estrada said.
The 42-month sentence is 30 months fewer than the 72-month sentence recommended by Dotson and fellow Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael Morse and Thomas Rybarczyk, who pointed to Ridley-Thomas’ post-conviction public relations campaign as an example of his refusal to accept responsibility.
Fischer’s reasons for leniency include the complexity of the value of the bribe. She also said “there appears to be no question that Dr. Ridley-Thomas intended to vote for the amendment.”
“But to some degree that makes Dr. Ridley-Thomas’ conduct … even more troubling,” Fischer said.
The judge said given the “unique circumstances” of the case, it’s more appropriate to focus on the general nature of the case than the details.
Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers asked for probation in a 38-page sentencing memorandum that said his sentencing day “will be a horribly sad day” and described his crime as “using a private school to help his son.”
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Prosecutors responded by saying the memo “wildly mischaracterizes the nature, circumstances, and severity of his crimes, massively minimizes his culpability, and continues to peddle the false narrative that he is a victim persecuted for merely acting in the community’s best interests — the same fictitious tale the jury rejected at trial.”
Ridley-Thomas submitted 130 letters of support from family, friends, business associates and former constituents.
In a rarity, prosecutors received a letter calling for Ridley-Thomas to receive more than their recommended six years. It was from Bernard C. Parks, a retired Los Angeles city councilman and retired chief of the Los Angeles Police Department who said prosecutors’ memo missed “how Mr. Ridley-Thomas’s colleagues were also victimized by his crimes.” Parks preceded Ridley-Thomas in 2003 as city councilman for Los Angeles’ 8th District; Ridley-Thomas was elected to the Council again in 2022 in the 10th District after serving 12 years on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He committed his federal crimes while board chairman but was on the City Council when he was indicted for them.
While committing his crimes, Ridley Thomas “misled his colleagues by soliciting their voting support, while failing to advise them of his corrupt behavior,” wrote Parks. “By doing this, he led them to the brink of corruption, which cast doubt on their honesty, integrity and opened the door for their constituents to believe they were involved in his schemes.”
Parks, who like Ridley-Thomas is Black, also said Ridley-Thomas “attempted to use his race to undermine the public’s faith in the judicial process and has encouraged others to do so as well.”
“He’s used this despicable tactic to raise money,” Parks wrote in his Aug. 17 letter, which asked Fischer “to consider sentencing Mr. Ridley-Thomas to the highest penalty that his crimes allow.”
The Los Angeles City Clerk told Parks to stop using the city seal in a letter filed with the court on Sunday.
Fischer cited Parks’ letter on Monday when describing how Ridley-Thomas’ crimes victimized the community. She noted that Parks’ use of the city seal did not influence her.
Parks’ letter noted that Flynn is Caucasian, though he wrongly stated that she testified against Ridley-Thomas when she in fact did not participate in his trial.
In their sentencing memo, Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers pointed to Flynn’s probationary sentence and the U.S. Probation Office’s finding that “neither Dr. Ridley-Thomas nor Dean Marilyn Flynn exerted any authority or control over the other, that their involvement was mutually beneficial, and their culpability was similar.”
“Given that Dean Flynn has been sentenced to probation and no time in custody, a sentence involving multiple years in prison for Dr. Ridley-Thomas would seem excessively and unduly disproportionate,” according to the memo from Amram as well as Daralyn J. Durie, Arturo J. Gonzalez and Ramsey W. Fisher all of Morrison & Foerster.
But even after finding Ridley-Thomas and Flynn equally culpable, the U.S. Probation Office still recommended 18 months of prison for Ridley-Thomas. Judge Fischer also made clear prison was likely for Ridley-Thomas during Flynn’s sentencing, saying the benefits he sought for his son “were obvious and significant.” She also said she “seriously considered imprisonment” for Flynn.
Prosecutors distinguished Flynn from Ridley-Thomas by pointing to both their crimes and their actions after they were caught. Flynn took responsibility and has not “in legal briefs or otherwise, attempted to shift blame or cry foul about her prosecution.”
“Her contrition not only shows an acceptance of responsibility but also that she is less likely to reoffend,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant cannot say the same. His and Flynn’s behavior post-indictment could not be more diametrically opposed.”
Dotson said on Monday that Flynn “is not a victim,” but Ridley-Thomas was the one who pushed the scheme, and there were times when Flynn “felt immense pressure” because of him.
Judge Fischer agreed, saying Monday that Ridley-Thomas “clearly was the moving force in this scheme.” And while Flynn’s motive “was not completely altruistic,” Ridley-Thomas’ motive “was purely to help his son and himself, despite his defense counsel’s vociferous arguments to the contrary.”
Prosecutors in their memo revealed another incidence of Ridley-Thomas leveraging Los Angeles County business to gain benefits for his son that jurors didn’t hear about in trial. It involved a county contract regarding short-term rentals, to which Ridley-Thomas proposed an amendment that exactly matched an amendment sought by a lobbyist who contacted him. Ridley-Thomas emailed the lobbyist a report about short-term rentals sent to him by another county officials and wrote, “You make me work too hard. Mercy! Do not share this with ANYONE 😉.”
Two weeks later, Sebastian and the lobbyist met with a company executive to solicit a donation for his new nonprofit — the same nonprofit his father intended to help by funneling $100,000 in campaign money through USC.
“Defendant’s pay-to-play mentality here demonstrates that his interactions with Flynn were not aberrant. In both cases, he made others believe that his official support came at the price of helping his son. And that price was not cheap,” prosecutors wrote.
Further, prosecutors wrote, Sebastian made clear he and his father intended to target other county business for possible donations by sending his father an email with the subject line “PRPI $$$,” referring to the name of his nonprofit, the Policy Research & Practice Initiative.
“The email listed 10 individuals and entities and, next to each name, a dollar amount and the government business relevant to the individuals and entities,” prosecutors wrote. The subtext was plain: If defendant could assist these persons and entities with their government business, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas could get donations for PRPI in the dollar amounts listed.”
Judge Fischer said on Monday that “the alleged previous pay-to-play conudct” does
”raise some concerns” but didn’t factor it into her sentence.
Monday’s arguments reflected what’s laid out in the defense and prosecution Aug. 7 memos as well as the prosecution’s Aug. 14 reply. They also referenced the U.S. Probation Office’s recommendation, which is sealed from public view.
The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines calculate sentences through an offense level and a defendant’s prior criminal convictions, of which Ridley-Thomas has none.
Before 2005, Judge Fischer would be bound to impose a sentence in accordance with the Guidelines. But the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker deemed the guidelines merely advisory, giving judges huge latitude to impose whatever sentence they feel is just.
Here’s what prosecutors and Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers said she should do.
The prosecution’s position
U.S. Sentencing Guidelines set the base offense level for bribery at 14, with a four-point increase to 18 for an elected official such as Ridley-Thomas. That brings a standard sentencing range of 27 months to 33 months in prison for someone with no criminal history.
Prosecutors said Ridley-Thomas’ offense level should be increased to 30 to account for the $530,323 value of the Telehealth contract he used to pressure Flynn to agree to funnel his campaign money through USC to United Way for his son. That would give him a standard sentencing range of 97 months to 121 months in prison, but prosecutors said he deserved a three-level departure in offense level to account for his positive characteristics and achievements, which would drop Ridley-Thomas’ standard sentencing range to 70 months to 87 months.
Anything less than 72 months, prosecutors wrote, “risks feeding the perception of a two-tier system of justice where powerful and privileged defendants fare better than defendants of lesser means and status.”
“This was a shakedown. Not the kind in movies with bags of cash or threats of force. But the kind that is polite and pervasive. The kind that happens too often by sophisticated, powerful people. The kind to which society, sadly, has become so accustomed that it often goes unreported and rarely yields consequences for the offender but strikes a devastating blow to the integrity of our democratic system.”
First, prosecutors pointed to Ridley-Thomas’ motives. Had he been trying to help his son only, “his solicitation of benefits for his son still would have been illegal and corrupt.” But Ridley-Thomas’ scheme with USC wasn’t just aimed at helping Sebastian, prosecutors said, it was aimed at helping himself avoid a public scandal involving his son’s sexual harassment investigation in the height of the #MeToo movement.
“Defendant was a career politician whose power, livelihood, and stature were tied to his elected office, which, in turn, rested on his reputation,” prosecutors said. “Beyond that, defendant had grand aspirations of running for the open seat for Mayor of Los Angeles in 2022. A scandal for the Ridley-Thomas political brand threatened it all.”
The memo noted that Ridley-Thomas announced he wouldn’t run for mayor on Aug. 17, 2018, “just eight days after FBI agents served Sebastian Ridley-Thomas with a federal grand jury subpoena seeking information about this case.”
The memo went on to recount Ridley-Thomas’ scheme with Flynn in great detail, from Flynn referencing their “side deal” regarding the county Telehealth contract to an email Ridley-Thomas sent his son after Flynn told him she’d sent the $100,000 to USC as planned. The email said simply, “My piece is done” with a fist bump emoji. Ridley-Thomas’ actions, prosecutors wrote, “demonstrate the calculated, continuous, and egregious nature of defendant’s scheme.”
“He was powerful -- and knew it. He capitalized on the power of his elected office for personal gain. He lied, cheated, and deceived, repeatedly. Defendant’s duplicity flies in the face of his public persona and trial narrative that he always acted in ‘good faith’ -- a narrative the jury soundly rejected with its multiple guilty verdicts. The nature of his crimes, circumstances surrounding them, and the need for just punishment warrant a substantial sentence with a meaningful term of imprisonment.”
Prosecutors said U.S. Probation’s recommended 79-month variance is unwarranted.
“Tellingly and concerningly, Probation provides little justification for its recommendation of a mere 18 months,” they wrote.
While some may view Ridley-Thomas’ accomplishments as mitigating, “they also are part of his typical duties as a politician.”
“Politicians are supposed to serve their community. That is their job. It is also how they maintain power. Politicians who fail to deliver on campaign pledges or better the lives of their constituents are often voted out of office. To maintain his career, livelihood, and stature, it was in defendant’s personal interest, just as much as the community’s interest, for him to deliver on political promises.”
Prosecutors’ memo said Ridley-Thomas’ post-conviction public relations campaign shows he “cannot bring himself to acknowledge any wrongdoing whatsoever.”
“The fact that defendant plans to appeal his conviction is of little moment. His planned appeal does not mean he is legally or practically barred from expressing all types of remorse or taking any responsibility,” prosecutors wrote.
The memo cited public repetitions of Ridley-Thomas’ claim that his conviction is based on “false testimony” and encourages people to attend hearings to “illustrate community skepticism about the verdict.”
The memo also cited a tweet by yours truly:
“A campaign strategist and crisis communications specialist emailed journalists to purportedly correct the record and provide, in his words, a “more accurate summary” of the jury’s verdict: Former Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas was convicted in March on federal bribery, conspiracy and honest services mail and wire charges for steering county contracts to USC in exchange for contributions to a community-focused nonprofit organization. Ridley-Thomas is appealing the conviction. (Twitter Post from Journalist Meghann Cuniff, dated June 26, 2023, available at https://twitter.com/meghanncuniff/status/1673388331567312896 (last visited July 25, 2023) (emphasis added).”
Amram briefly referenced my tweet in her argument on Monday, saying prosecutors “quite shockingly” cited “Twitter posts by third parties” when they have “no basis whatsoever to attribute” them to Ridley-Thomas. Fischer did not address the issue in her oral ruling
Prosecutors in their memo said the attempt to minimize Ridley-Thomas’ conduct “demonstrates the revisionist history and minimization at play to convince the public that defendant is being persecuted for acting in the community’s best interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
They also said Ridley-Thomas’ refusal “to accept any modicum of responsibility” and his even-worse undermining of the public’s faith in the judicial process are “all to preserve his image.”
“In fact, it is entirely consistent with the manner and means in which he sought to deceive the public about the real reason his son abruptly resigned from elected office, notably with the aid of a coordinated team of legal and public relations experts. The appropriate sentence here should not validate defendant’s false and corrosive narrative of victimhood and injustice, nor reward those who engage in deceptive behavior.”
The memo quotes Judge Fischer’s colleague Judge John F. Walter during his July 22 sentencing of developer David Lee for bribing former Los Angeles City Councilman and admitted felon Jose Huizar, “The crushing weight of corruption on the integrity of every democratic element of our Government has been and will continue to be a constant concern.”
“As Judge Walter noted in the Lee sentencing, letters of support can be “important in providing the Court with a complete picture of the defendant,” but they are not a significant counterweight to a substantial custodial sentence in public corruption cases. United States v. Lee, no. 20- CR-326(A)-JFW-5, 07-21-23 RT 51:12-22 (C.D. Cal. 2023). The fact that family and others will be hurt by a defendant’s absence during custody is “extremely common in these types of cases.” (Id.) “And it’s why defendants should think about their families before committing crimes, not after they’ve been caught.” (Id.)”
Fischer also quoted Walter, saying Monday that she can’t “comment more eloquently or more convincingly” on the need for a strong sentence than the words of “my colleague Judge Walter.”
Fischer read this quote from Walter, which also is included in the prosecution’s memo: “[P]olitical corruption is [a] unique and infectious crime with rippling and enormous consequences to society. Keeping political corruption in check has been a matter of public urgency throughout our nation’s history. The crushing weight of corruption on the integrity of every democratic element of our Government has been and will continue to be a constant concern. In addition to promoting respect for any corruption laws and deterring corporations and individuals in positions of political clout, strict sentences also serve to protect the public from further harm.”
Fischer also quoted retired U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo in the Northern District of Illinois, who said public corruption “demoralizes and unfairly stigmatizes the honest work of public servants” but “can be deterred by significant penalties.”
The defense’s position
Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers began their memo by declaring the sole reason Ridley-Thomas was in court is because “he also supported the Telehealth amendment.”
The evidence showed only that “Dr. Ridley-Thomas supported the Telehealth amendment along with all the other supervisors. The jury found that support was corrupt,” according to the memo. “The jury, however, also acquitted Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas of 12 counts. Downward variances exist for cases like this.”
The $100,000 donation “went to fund a non-profit devoted to ensuring that the voice of African-American voters would be represented in political polling.”
“And the contract amendment Dr. Ridley-Thomas supported extended a project expanding access to mental health care to a vulnerable population in Los Angeles—a project that he spearheaded and had consistently supported for years. The value of the bribe, and whether it even had a victim, is unclear,” the defense wrote.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Probation Office agreed the bribe’s value is $530,323 - the cost of the Telehealth contract that Ridley-Thomas leveraged to secure benefits.
But Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers said the value should be considered zero.
“There is no evidence showing that the net value of the Telehealth Amendment was over $6,500. There is also no evidence showing what value the $100,000 donation, which came from Dr. Ridley-Thomas’s funds, could have had when he chose to donate the money through the transaction.”
The defense argued Ridley-Thomas’ standard range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was 21 months to 27 months because he deserves a two-point reduction in offense level, which would drop it from prosecutors’ base of 18 to 16. They said the reduction was warranted because of an amendment to the Guidelines that calls for defendants with no criminal history to have two points knocked off their offense level.
The amendment won’t take effect until Nov. 1, but “many courts and prosecutors are already applying the downward departure in anticipation of it going into effect.”
Further, the defense said no prison time is warranted because the case is so atypical.
“This is not the prototypical corruption case. No lavish Las Vegas trips. No cash in a paper bag. No illegal contributions from a wealthy donor. No money that Dr. Ridley-Thomas received. The County did not lose any money because the amendment at issue had no net county cost,” the defense wrote. Ridley-Thomas “derived zero financial benefit from the bribe. He lost money.”
His case’s “closest analogues are the college admissions cases in which parents crossed the line to help their kids.”
“Those parents received sentences between one year probation and 15 months imprisonment,” the defense wrote.
The defense said Ridley-Thomas’ “historic impact on the community” warrants an downward departure from 21-27 months in prison to probation only.
“He has devoted decades to serving others, to empowering historically silenced voices, to doing everything in his power to make Los Angeles a better place. He is responsible for a host of programs—from the Empowerment Congress, to the Blue Ribbon Commission, to Measure H, to Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital—that have done just that. His work has changed and saved lives. But as the letters make clear, he has also transformed many lives of people he has interacted with on an individual level. There are people in this community who were inspired to become public servants because of Dr. Ridley-Thomas. For decades, he displayed a level of commitment to service that went above and beyond any of his job descriptions. His sentence should reflect that.”
The memo describes Ridley-Thomas’ background: Born in South Los Angeles to a single mother who died of breast cancer when he was 9 years old, raised by his grandparents and taught the importance of public service through his church.
“His older sister Toni walked him to church every Sunday. And he started learning about how central the church was to the narrative for Black America overall—the same central institution that was spared during the Watts riots of 1965. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at his church. He and other formative voices of the time like Benjamin Hooks and Jesse Jackson were all trained seminarians. They captured Dr. Ridley-Thomas’s imagination. By the time he was a freshman in high school, he knew he wanted to be part of that tradition.”
His 37-year-old brother Michael was fatally stabbed in his home in 1981, the same year Ridley-Thomas became executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Southern California office.
“When a seat opened on the LA City Council in 1991, Dr. Ridley-Thomas’s constituents urged him to run. He did. And he won, starting a political career that would continue for the next three decades. He would serve three four-year terms on the City Council, two terms in the State Assembly, one partial term in the State Senate, before winning election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.”
The defense said it’s “nearly impossible to properly chronicle the improvements Dr. Ridley-Thomas has made in the lives of his constituents” but his more than 130 support letters offer “the best account.”
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