Mark Ridley-Thomas (File photo)

Judge says, “The entire community has been victimized by the defendant’s crimes. Ridley-Thomas has committed serious crimes, has not accepted responsibility, and has shown no remorse.”


U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer sentenced former L.A. City Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, 68, to three years and six months on Monday, August 28. Judge Fischer ordered Ridley-Thomas to pay a $30,000 fine, and he will be subject to three years of supervised release.

“Ridley-Thomas’ motive was to benefit his son and himself…he was willing to betray the trust placed in him by the community to do so,” Fischer said.

“Ridley-Thomas has committed serious crimes, has not accepted responsibility, and has shown no remorse. There is simply no justification for monetizing one’s office.”

Sinclair Ridley-Thomas speaks to reporters after the sentencing. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

Ridley-Thomas must report to prison on November 13 and will remain out of custody until then. Judge Fischer initially set his report date for November 6 but pushed the date back one week because the original report date is the birthday of Ridley-Thomas.

Before his sentence was handed down in front of family, friends, and many supporters who packed the courtroom and overflow courtroom, Ridley-Thomas apologized to his wife, Avis, his sons, Sebastian and Sinclair, his daughter-in-law Shaunicie, and his grandchildren, acknowledging that their lives have been “disrupted and traumatically impacted,” he said in his address to the court.

Dr. Cornel West, left with Pastor Norman Johnson, Sr. of First New Christian Church. (E. Mesiyah McGinnis/L.A. Sentinel)

“This case exists somewhere between what is clearly legal conduct on one end and clearly illegal conduct on the other. 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,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Sinclair Ridley-Thomas, one of his father’s twin sons, spoke to reporters after the nearly two-hour hearing: “Our family is deeply disappointed in the current state of affairs related to proceedings in the Mark Ridley-Thomas trial,” Sinclair said.

Dr. Cornel West, the preeminent theologian and Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary, told reporters that it was “a very sad day.” West called Ridley-Thomas “one of the greatest public servants in this state.”

Before sentencing, Judge Fischer acknowledged receiving an outpouring of calls and letters in support of Ridley-Thomas, emphasizing his compassion and concern for the constituents he served.

“The many letters I received show that his service to the community has been truly extraordinary,” Fischer said. But, she said, his good works did not come close to justifying what Ridley-Thomas and his lawyers sought – a sentence that avoided prison.

“Any lesser sentence would be an invitation to other public servants to betray the trust the public places in them,” Fischer said.

“He is my dear brother forever,” Dr. West said. “And that his integrity cannot be called into question by legal proceedings.”

Supporters of Ridley-Thomas have accused the U.S. Attorney’s office of “overreaching and dishonesty” during the entire proceedings.

Ridley-Thomas, a lifelong resident of Los Angeles, is known for “getting things done in Los Angeles.” He is well known for his advocacy for the homeless, mental health and making good on his promise to build the new Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital.

He founded the Empowerment Congress, a neighbor initiative for civic engagement. He has secured over $1 billion in resources to extend Metro transit lines, affordable housing, and the revitalization of parks and community centers, several of which bear the Ridley-Thomas name.

Jurors convicted Ridley-Thomas on March 30 of seven felonies – bribery, conspiracy, four counts of honest services wire fraud, and one count of honest services mail fraud. The sentencing of Ridley-Thomas, initially scheduled for August 21, was pushed back one week due to an impending storm potentially impacting the travel of his defense team.

Ridley-Thomas’s convictions stemmed from his time as an L.A. County Board of Supervisors member. A jury found Ridley-Thomas guilty of honest services fraud for sending a $100,000 donation from a fund to USC’s School of Social Work.

Jurors on the case accepted the prosecutor’s determinations that Ridley-Thomas knew the university would route the donation to a nonprofit run by his son, Sebastian. Prosecutors alleged that the actions of Ridley-Thomas were part of a broader conspiracy where he received benefits from USC in exchange for his support of county business for the university.

Prosecutors previously asked Judge Fischer to sentence Ridley-Thomas to six years behind bars following his convictions, along with three years of supervised release and a $30,000 fine. Federal probation officials recommended 18 months in prison.

The defense attorneys for Ridley-Thomas asked for a term of home confinement, community service, and a fine with no prison time. The defense team sought a probationary sentence along the lines of the punishment received by his co-defendant, Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, the former dean of the USC School of Social Work, who was sentenced to 18 months of house arrest and fined $150,000 for her role in the case.

Judge Fischer, in sentencing Ridley-Thomas, said:

“The entire community has been victimized by the defendant’s crimes.” Fischer went on to say, “This was not a mistake. He (Ridley-Thomas) has a PhD in social ethics. He knew it was wrong.”

Ridley-Thomas defense attorneys have said they will appeal the case.

“It is a sad day for everyone,” defense attorney Galia Amram said. My client “regrets deeply that his actions caused anyone to think that he crossed the line.”

Amran affirmed that they respected the jury’s decision at trial and sentencing, but “significant legal issues need to be addressed on appeal.”

Mark Ridley-Thomas did not speak to reporters gathered outside the courthouse as he made his way home.