Angela Powell (Courtesy Image)


Mark Ridley-Thomas, or “MRT” as he is known to those in the Los Angeles community, will soon learn the answer to that question.  

On August 21, 2023, Ridley-Thomas will return to court to be sentenced. He faces nearly as much prison time as his time as a Board Supervisor for Los Angeles County, the very position at the center of his demise.  

Ridley-Thomas enjoyed a very prominent career in Los Angeles where he served as a voice for the African American community. Ridley-Thomas served on the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He also served as a member of the California State Assembly for the 48th District and the California State Senate for the 26th District. 

Mark Ridley-Thomas (File photo)


Charges Against MRT 

In 2021, a federal grand indicted Mark Ridley-Thomas for bribery and conspiracy charges. The charges stemmed from an alleged $100,000.00 donation that Ridley-Thomas’ political campaign fund gave to the University of Southern California’s (“USC”) Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work (“School”).  

After the School received the donation, the School’s Dean, Marilyn L. Flynn, then funneled a $100,000.00 donation into the account of a think tank run by Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. It was alleged that Ridley-Thomas orchestrated this scheme to help his son and in exchange, Ridley-Thomas agreed to support a contract important to Flynn and the School…this is bribery.  

In addition, it was alleged that Ridley-Thomas, by using his power and influence as one of five L.A. County Board Supervisors, agreed to support millions of dollars in Los Angeles County contracts with the School, in exchange, the School was to award his son a full-time tuition scholarship and a part-time job as a professor to the School where Flynn was Dean…this is bribery. 

Ridley-Thomas went to trial and was found guilty of seven different charges, including bribery and conspiracy charges. It was reported that the jury foreperson commented that there was “dishonesty,” but said there was disagreement amongst the jurors over whether the benefits Ridley-Thomas’ son received (scholarship and part-time job) amounted to a crime. Ultimately, according to the foreperson, it was the $100,000.00 donation that persuaded jurors to convict.   


Federal Sentencing 

In federal court, if a person is convicted either because they pled guilty or a jury found them guilty, both the prosecution and the defense will submit to the judge a sentencing memorandum, which will outline the factors they are asking the judge to consider in sentencing and will recommend the sentence they are asking the judge to impose. The factors are enumerated in what is known as the United States Sentencing Guidelines.  

The guidelines are designed to provide a uniform sentencing policy for criminal defendants convicted in the federal court system across the nation. While the judge is not required to follow the guidelines, they do tend to let them be a guide. The guidelines take into account the seriousness of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history.  

On August 7, 2023, the Assistant United States Attorneys in the Ridley-Thomas case filed a 32-page sentencing memorandum asking the judge to impose a six-year prison term, three years of supervised release and a fine of $30,000.00 against Ridley-Thomas.  

In the memorandum, the prosecution wrote, “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.”  

Ridley-Thomas’ defense team filed a sentencing memorandum on his behalf. They are seeking a probationary sentence with “substantial” home confinement, community service, a financial penalty and no prison time. Ridley-Thomas’ counsel wrote, “His reputation was built on ethical community empowerment. The shame of his convictions is punishment and provides ample specific deterrence. With the felony convictions, his service in public office is over.” 

Will Ridley-Thomas go to prison? United States District Court Judge Dale S. Fischer will decide.  Whether Ridley-Thomas takes ownership of the offenses the jury found that he committed is likely to be a factor in Judge Fischer’s decision.  

The defense will certainly argue that his dedication and years of service to the Los Angeles community warrants no prison time; however, the prosecution will argue that it is that very betrayal to the Los Angeles community that warrants prison time.   

As a society, we often see the abuse of power by those in authority worse than that of an average citizen, why, because we expect more from those whom we have placed our confidence and trust.  

As a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, I predict that Ridley-Thomas will serve time in prison, but not the six-year term requested by the prosecution.   

Should MRT go to prison? Ask yourself. And then ask yourself, if you put aside race and political affiliation, do you arrive at the same decision?   


Angela M. Powell is an Attorney at Law/Director with the law firm of Ivie, McNeill, Wyatt Purcell & Diggs.