University of Southern California
marilyn flynn

Former dean at University of Southern California indicted on bribery charges

Oct. 15, 2021
Marilyn Flynn, who was dean of USC's School of Social Work, is accused of conspiring with a Los Angeles County official to give the official's son a scholarship and a faculty position.

The former dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles  has been indicted on federal corruption charges in a bribery scheme that allegedly resulted in the university receiving lucrative contracts from Los Angeles County.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California says that Marilyn Louise Flynn, formerly a tenured professor and the dean of the university’s School of Social Work, and Mark Ridley-Thomas, a former member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who now serves on the Los Angeles City Council, allegedly entered into a conspiracy in which Ridley-Thomas's son received substantial benefits from the university in exchange for Ridley-Thomas supporting county contracts and lucrative contract amendments with the university while he served on the Board of Supervisors.

The 20-count indictment alleges that Ridley-Thomas conspired with Flynn to provide Ridley-Thomas's son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a mechanism to funnel campaign funds to Ridley-Thomas through the university.

In exchange, Ridley-Thomas supported contracts involving the Social Work School, including contracts to provide services to the Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.

 “The corrupt activities alleged in the indictment were facilitated by a major university’s high-ranking administrator whose desire for funding apparently trumped notions of integrity and fair play," said Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison.

USC says it has fully cooperated with the the bribery investigation, USCAnnenberg reports.

"When the university learned in the summer of 2018 about the $100,000 payment referenced in the indictment, the university disclosed the issue to the U.S. Attorney's Office and has fully cooperated ever since," the university said in a statement. "Marilyn Flynn has not been employed by the university since September 2018."

Ridley-Thomas allegedly sought benefits from Flynn and university officials to benefit his son, who was a California Assemblyman at the time.

The son was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation in the California State Assembly, likely to resign from elected office, and significantly in debt, the indictment says. Ridley-Thomas allegedly wanted to help secure paid employment for his son to minimize any public fallout for them both in the wake of the sudden resignation from office.

Meanwhile, prosecutors say, the Social Work School was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, which threatened the school’s viability as well as Flynn’s position and reputation as the school’s longtime dean.

As part of the bribery scheme, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn allegedly took steps “to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes, kickbacks, and other benefits.”

Within weeks of Ridley-Thomas contacting Flynn in May 2017 about his son wanting a postgraduate degree from the university, Flynn began a campaign to secure both university admission and a full scholarship for the son.

Flynn wrote in an email that she “intend[ed] to open every door for [the son],” When a university official said Ridley-Thomas had “lots of discretionary money” and should give the university “$1M each year for three years,” Flynn responded that she and another university official intended to offer the relative a full scholarship, characterizing the exchange as a “full scholarship for our [Social Work School] funds.”

The indictment alleges that a letter from Flynn to Ridley-Thomas detailed her expectations that Ridley-Thomas would steer new contracts to the Social Work School and secure a lucrative amendment to an existing contract. With the new amendment, Flynn expected the contract to generate about $9 million per year for the Social Work School.

In exchange for Flynn’s efforts to help Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, the indictment alleges that Mark Ridley-Thomas took a series of official actions: voting in August 2017 to approve a motion to establish a partnership between the county and Social Work School and voting in October 2017 to approve a motion, related to “Probation University,” that would create a new county payment source for the school.

In fall 2017, Ridley-Thomas and his son began soliciting from Flynn and other university officials a paid professorship for the son while concealing that the son was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation. By December 2017, in conjunction with speculation that the son could be forced out of office, Ridley-Thomas and his relative increased their efforts to secure a paid faculty position for the son.

On December 14, 2017, the indictment says, Flynn expedited the Sebastian Ridley Thomas's enrollment at the university, instructing that the admission should be given the “highest priority." Flynn also agreed, despite the school’s multimillion-dollar budget deficit, to use the Social Work School’s endowed funds to award a scholarship. At Flynn’s direction, the son received a full scholarship worth $26,000 for the 2018 spring and summer terms.

 Flynn also endeavored to quickly secure a paid professorship for the son, even though dual student-faculty status would violate university policy. The university thereafter offered the son a paid teaching position with a salary of $50,000.

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