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Home / News / Politics / USC dean gets probation, home confinement in bribery case

USC dean gets probation, home confinement in bribery case

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By Fred Shuster

Marilyn Flynn, an 84-year-old former dean of USC’s School of Social Work who admitted bribing longtime Los Angeles politician Mark Ridley-Thomas while he served on the county Board of Supervisors, was sentenced Monday to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer also granted the prosecution’s recommendation of 18 months of electronic monitoring during Flynn’s term of probation. The judge rejected a defense argument for two years’ probation without home confinement and a fine of $100,000.

“A lifetime of dedication and service is something courts don’t often see,” Fischer said of the defendant who was elected dean of the social work school five times. “It is unfortunate that such an illustrious career comes to an end (in this way).”

The judge said she decided against imprisonment after considering such mitigating factors as Flynn’s “early and fulsome acceptance of responsibility,” including her voluntary disclosure of incriminating information previously unknown to the government. Flynn “hasn’t tried to minimize her actions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson said.

The ex-dean pleaded guilty in September to one count of bribery, admitting that she agreed to have USC serve as a conduit for a $100,000 payment from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign account to the social work school. Per their agreement, Flynn then arranged for a nearly simultaneous $100,000 payment from USC to the United Ways of California for the benefit of the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative — a new nonprofit initiative led by Ridley-Thomas’ son, who had abruptly resigned from his elected position in the California State Assembly.

To facilitate the scheme, Flynn and Ridley-Thomas concealed from USC that Ridley-Thomas had directed the payment to USC with the intent that the funds be used to support USC’s nearly simultaneous $100,000 payment to United Ways and PRPI, Flynn’s plea agreement states.

Immediately after Flynn informed Ridley-Thomas that the USC payment to United Ways and PRPI had been “cleared,” Ridley-Thomas facilitated a May 10, 2018, meeting between the dean and a high-level county official to move forward on the county’s approval of Flynn’s desired expansion of an online mental health services contract that would have improved her school’s ailing finances.

Flynn’s attorneys wrote that the ex-dean was not driven by greed, but by “a desire to help her school, the graduate students in the social work program and those who needed greater access to mental health services. She recognizes and takes responsibility for losing her moral compass along the way.”

Ridley-Thomas, 68, faces the prospect of years in prison after being convicted at trial March 30 on single counts of conspiracy, bribery, honest services mail fraud and four counts of honest services wire fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 21.

Last month, Fischer upheld the convictions, denying Ridley-Thomas’ efforts to have the verdicts vacated.

The former city councilman was accused of steering county contracts toward the USC social work school in exchange for the $100,000 contribution to the organization run by his son.

A juror who spoke after the verdicts were announced said the panel found “dishonesty” in Ridley-Thomas’ actions involving the transfer of $100,000 that traveled from his campaign fund to USC, then to the United Ways of California and finally to the nonprofit.

Jurors, who reached their verdicts on their fifth day of deliberations in Los Angeles federal court, acquitted the Southland political giant of a dozen fraud counts.

Attorneys for Ridley-Thomas are appealing the conviction.

In court Monday, Flynn told the judge she was “greatly embarrassed” and deeply regretted the “distress” she caused to the USC community and its social work school.

Her attorney, Brian J. Hennigan, said Flynn was motivated to go along with Ridley-Thomas’ plan for “the public good. This was not a case where she was looking to line her pockets.”

An expansion of the telehealth contract would have been a benefit to the school, the students and the people of the county — not to Flynn, Hennigan said. However, the judge said she had a “personal interest” in the success of the contract, which would have raised money for the financially troubled school and allowed her to keep her position.

The defense attorney said the job of dean “is a tough road because you are required to raise funds.”

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