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After a guilty verdict, praise pours in for Ridley-Thomas

The corruption circumstances which have upended Los Angeles metropolis politics lately have been greeted by a well-known set of reactions: public disgust, condemnation from elected officers, pressing requires reform.

However within the days since a jury discovered former Metropolis Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas responsible of bribery, conspiracy and fraud expenses, a few of the metropolis’s political leaders have given a markedly completely different kind of response, providing tributes as a substitute of scorn.

Mayor Karen Bass described Ridley-Thomas, a buddy and ally for greater than 40 years, as a “thought chief” who had made a big impact on the town. Steve Soboroff, who sits on the Board of Police Commissioners, tweeted his appreciation for Ridley-Thomas’ work. State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) issued a press release itemizing Ridley-Thomas’ accomplishments — omitting the truth that the veteran politician had simply been convicted of a number of felony counts.

“The Mark Ridley-Thomas I do know is the tireless champion, the relentless advocate, the unstoppable pressure,” wrote former Metropolis Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represented the Westside for almost a decade.

The reward from L.A. civic leaders, so quickly after the 12-member jury issued its responsible verdict, serves as a testomony to the large base of friendship and political help amassed by Ridley-Thomas over his three a long time in elected workplace whereas serving on the council, within the state Legislature and on the county Board of Supervisors.

These responses are additionally a departure from the derision that largely greeted the responsible pleas of former Metropolis Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander, in addition to David Wright, the previous head of the Division of Water and Energy — all targets of federal prosecutors lately.

Supporters described Ridley-Thomas’ departure from L.A.’s political scene as a blow for the town and the communities he represented. At instances, their remarks sounded extra like reminiscences from a retirement social gathering than a response to a legal trial.

Group leaders pointed to Ridley-Thomas’ work launching the Empowerment Congress, which introduced residents of South L.A. collectively to advocate for his or her pursuits. They highlighted his push for reforms on the Los Angeles Police Division. And so they touted his success in reopening Martin Luther King Jr. Group Hospital, closed after years of neglect.

These achievements, mixed along with his deep ties to the group, assist clarify why so many had been shocked by the decision, mentioned Pastor William D. Good Jr., president and chief government of the Southern Christian Management Convention of Southern California.

“It wasn’t imagined to go down like this,” he mentioned. “Everybody simply thought he was going to get exonerated, as a result of he’s a hero.”

Former Los Angeles Metropolis Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas walks from the federal courthouse throughout his trial on conspiracy, bribery and fraud expenses.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Occasions)

A few of that anguish is now being directed on the prosecution. Good not too long ago described the case as “a U.S. authorities railroad of one other Black man.” One other South L.A. minister steered it was a political witch hunt. Discuss present host Tavis Smiley, who seems on radio station KBLA 1580, took purpose on the Division of Justice, saying in an editorial that “searching season for Black of us is all the time open.”

A number of voices have begun pushing again towards that narrative — and the characterization of Ridley-Thomas as a hero or sufferer.

Former Councilmember Bernard C. Parks, who misplaced to Ridley-Thomas within the 2008 race for county supervisor, mentioned the conviction doesn’t diminish Ridley-Thomas’ legislative accomplishments. But it surely has tarnished Ridley-Thomas’ total legacy, Parks mentioned.

“Mark Ridley-Thomas was not indicted as a result of he’s Black or as a result of he was too profitable,” mentioned Parks, who served 12 years on the council. “He was indicted and convicted as a result of he dedicated a number of severe felony crimes.”

Prosecutors have sought to refute claims of bias, noting that Ridley-Thomas’ co-defendant within the case was Marilyn Flynn, the previous dean of USC’s social work college, who’s white and lives in Los Feliz. Flynn, 84, pleaded responsible in September and is awaiting sentencing.

Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 14. A consultant for his protection crew mentioned he intends to file an enchantment of the decision.

The jury discovered Ridley-Thomas responsible of seven out of 19 felony counts, figuring out that he had conspired with a dean at USC to help a contract to the college whereas additionally arranging particular advantages at USC for his son, former Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. On the time, Ridley-Thomas was a member of the county Board of Supervisors.

Former USC dean Marilyn Flynn, flanked by her lawyers, walks into a downtown courthouse in September.

Former USC dean Marilyn Flynn, second from left, walks into the federal courthouse in downtown L.A. in September. She pleaded responsible to a single bribery depend within the case concentrating on former Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Prosecutors alleged that the advantages Sebastian obtained included admission to USC’s Faculty of Social Work, a full-tuition scholarship, a part-time job as USC professor and the routing of a $100,000 from Ridley-Thomas’ poll committee by way of the college to a nonprofit that his son was operating. Jurors acquitted Ridley-Thomas on sincere companies fraud expenses associated to the scholarship and professorship however convicted him of fraud counts associated to funneling $100,000 by way of USC to Sebastian’s nonprofit.

The jury forewoman informed The Occasions that the proof relating to the $100,000 donation shaped the idea of the bribery and conspiracy convictions.

Within the run-up to the trial, longtime supporters of Ridley-Thomas contributed generously to his authorized protection, offering essential monetary assist after the earlier metropolis controller stripped him of his wage and advantages. Mates, household and former colleagues packed the courtroom through the almost three-week trial, with some making repeat visits.

Councilmember Curren Value, who additionally represents a part of South L.A, got here to the courtroom for a part of a day. Outstanding public mental Cornel West sat within the entrance row for closing arguments. Cynthia McClain-Hill, who chairs the five-member board that oversees the Division of Water and Energy, additionally appeared, as did a parade of former Ridley-Thomas staffers.

Legal professionals for the protection informed the jury there was no must bribe Ridley-Thomas, because the USC initiatives he supported as a county supervisor had been already a part of his long-standing coverage agenda. They mentioned it’s past the facility of a single county supervisor to corruptly steer contracts to any group, given the necessity for a three-vote board majority on such selections.

To again up their case, they referred to as as witnesses two of his former colleagues: Supervisor Janice Hahn and former Supervisor Sheila Kuehl — each allies of Ridley-Thomas throughout his time on the board.

The protection crew went by way of three gadgets accepted by the Board of Supervisors that had been at subject within the case, asking Hahn every time: “Did our shopper, Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas, stress you in any technique to vote for this proposal?”

“No,” Hahn replied.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn stands before a microphone.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, right here at a information convention in 2019, testified as a witness for the protection within the trial of former Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas.

(Los Angeles Occasions)

On the witness stand, Kuehl mentioned she too didn’t really feel stress from Ridley-Thomas. Requested about her help for a distant psychological well being clinic run in partnership with USC, she mentioned: “I deeply consider that it could assist the kids.”

The transient questioning of Kuehl and Hahn was finally considerably of a purple herring — prosecutors didn’t declare at trial that Ridley-Thomas pressured his colleagues on the board to vote a technique or one other, though the indictment accused him of doing so. As a substitute, they alleged that he extracted advantages for himself and his son from a USC dean who wished to maneuver to the entrance of the road for profitable county enterprise, and later voted on that enterprise.

A few of Ridley-Thomas’ colleagues testified that they knew nothing of his dealings with Flynn. Nonetheless, the appearances by Kuehl, Hahn and others served a counter-narrative put forth by the protection: that Ridley-Thomas had a document of serving impoverished Black and brown communities and that he garnered the belief and respect of colleagues and workers.

One more protection witness was Karly Katona, who spent 12 years in his county workplace earlier than changing into his chief of workers at Metropolis Corridor. After the trial, Katona informed The Occasions that Ridley-Thomas felt a private accountability to ship for his constituents, significantly these in long-neglected neighborhoods.

Ridley-Thomas continuously toured his district, visiting parks and libraries on weekends, generally calling staffers if he discovered situations that didn’t measure up, Katona mentioned.

“It was by no means a 9-to-5 job for him,” Katona mentioned. “I do know this as a result of I used to be on the telephone with him at 10 p.m. most nights and Sunday mornings and on the streets with him.”

Ridley-Thomas returned to Metropolis Corridor in 2020 after an 18-year absence, instantly taking over a management position within the council’s effort to handle homelessness. By then, he had already spearheaded the passage of Measure H, which expanded companies for the county’s unhoused.

Political guide Dermot Givens, who lives in Ridley-Thomas’ former council district, mentioned it’s not obscure why Ridley-Thomas has been receiving such an outpouring of sympathy. Over the course of his profession, he achieved “an distinctive quantity of fine,” he mentioned.

What makes the case tragic, Givens mentioned, is that the case stems from Ridley-Thomas’ efforts to help his son. Ridley-Thomas, who had so many buddies and allies, might have reached out to another person, he mentioned.

“They did it to themselves,” mentioned Givens, who additionally works as an lawyer.

Soboroff, the police commissioner, mentioned he believes Ridley-Thomas ought to face authorized penalties for his actions. However for Soboroff, the conviction doesn’t overshadow the nice works Ridley-Thomas carried out over the a long time.

“The error, to me, is an asterisk,” Soboroff mentioned.


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