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Former USC dean pleads not guilty in Mark Ridley-Thomas bribery case

The Tommy Trojan statue at USC.
Former USC dean Marilyn Louise Flynn, accused of paying bribes to secure millions of dollars in Los Angeles County contracts for the university, pleaded not guilty Monday.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The former USC dean who is accused of paying bribes to secure millions of dollars in Los Angeles County contracts for the university pleaded not guilty Monday to federal criminal charges in the latest scandal to hit USC.

Marilyn Louise Flynn, 83, was dean of USC’s School of Social Work when she allegedly paid off Mark Ridley-Thomas, now an L.A. city councilman, when he was on the county Board of Supervisors.

Flynn, who has denied wrongdoing, entered her plea by video at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Pedro V. Castillo.

In a sign that others could be charged, Assistant U.S. Atty. Lindsey Greer Dotson told Castillo that the case against Flynn and Ridley-Thomas was part of a “very ongoing grand jury investigation.”

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The 20-count indictment charges both Flynn and Ridley-Thomas with bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud. Prosecutors say they conspired to steer county money to the university in return for admission of Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, the councilman’s son, into the graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and paid professorship.

The indictment says Mark Ridley-Thomas accepted “something of value” not just from Flynn but also from “other university officials,” who were left unnamed.

The prosecutor asked Castillo to bar Flynn from communicating with potential witnesses while she prepares for her trial. The same restriction was placed on Ridley-Thomas last week as one of the conditions set for his release from custody.

But Flynn’s attorney, Vicki I. Podberesky, said Flynn’s “social circle and support system” was composed of people from USC, so she asked that her client be allowed to speak with current and former USC employees so long as they don’t discuss the case.

A person stands unmasked next to a person with a face mask.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Dotson, in response, said prosecutors fear possible obstruction of justice by Flynn and Ridley-Thomas. She noted that the indictment accuses Flynn of concealing some of her alleged misconduct from colleagues at the university, suggesting she could not be trusted not to discuss the case with people.

Podberesky countered that every case carries the potential for such tampering.

“I truly feel, your honor, that without any evidence of witness tampering, it’s really not necessary,” she said.

A former USC dean is charged with paying off Mark Ridley-Thomas in exchange for millions of dollars in L.A. County contracts with the university.

The magistrate judge sided with prosecutors, barring Flynn from communicating with any known witnesses or victims, but said her lawyer could eventually work out an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office for at least some contact with people at USC.

Castillo agreed to let Flynn remain free on a $50,000 bond, but ordered her to surrender her passport and not travel outside the United States without the court’s permission.


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