Bass and Caruso trade insults as L.A. mayoral race turns ugly

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso discussed opponent Rep. Karen Bass’ connection to the Mark Ridley-Thomas corruption case at a Thursday news conference at Caruso corporate offices at the Grove in Los Angeles.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

With less than eight weeks until the November election, both Los Angeles mayoral candidates are fighting fire with fire as they attack their opponent’s relationships to scandals at one of the most prominent private institutions in the city.

Rick Caruso called on Rep. Karen Bass to provide more transparency Thursday on her dealings with an indicted USC administrator who gave the congresswoman a full-tuition scholarship before pushing for favorable legislation.

The demands by Caruso came a day after The Times revealed that federal prosecutors consider the circumstances surrounding Bass’ $95,000 scholarship “critical” and “relevant” to their public corruption case against the former USC administrator, Marilyn Flynn, and former L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.


Meanwhile, Bass released a new digital ad that accuses Caruso of covering up sexual abuse at USC on Wednesday, tweeting the ad less than an hour after The Times story was published. Both candidates criticized their opponent’s ties to the university during separate news conferences Thursday.

Flynn is charged for what prosecutors allege was a quid pro quo with Ridley-Thomas involving a scholarship awarded to his son in exchange for lucrative county contracts.

Although prosecutors have said Bass is not under a criminal investigation, to bolster their case they have highlighted an email from Flynn in which she noted doing “the same” sort of scholarship-for-funding with Bass.

Caruso supporters cite Bass’ free USC scholarship as ammo in the fight to lead Los Angeles.

Sept. 9, 2022

Caruso, citing The Times’ reporting, criticized Bass’ scholarship as “corruption” during a news conference at the Grove shopping center and insisted his opponent release “any emails and communications she’s had with the dean at the time.”

Bass spokesperson Sarah Leonard Sheahan referred reporters to the congressional records office when asked whether the congresswoman would release her communications with Flynn.

“Our city is in a critical state. It cannot afford for the next mayor to govern under a cloud of corruption,” Caruso said as he faced a wall of TV cameras in the marble-floored foyer of his corporate offices.

He sought to link Bass to a string of public corruption scandals that have engulfed City Hall, including the indictment of three City Council members and guilty pleas by a former high-level lawyer in the L.A. city attorney’s office and former L.A. Department of Water and Power executive.


The real estate developer also castigated the congresswoman for not listing the full $95,000 value of the scholarship in her annual financial disclosures until 2019, when Bass amended several years of filings to reflect the free tuition.

Bass has blamed a former staffer for the errors but indicated she did not fully review the filings before they were submitted.

Prosecutors say L.A. mayoral candidate Karen Bass’ scholarship and her dealings with USC are ‘critical’ to a case about corruption at the university.

Sept. 7, 2022

“Will she pay more attention to the city’s finances than she did her own?” Caruso asked.

Supporters of Bass pushed back forcefully against Caruso’s claims, with Morgan Miller, chair of an independent committee backing the congresswoman, slamming the developer for “lies.”

“The lie is the insinuation that Karen Bass is corrupt, that she did something wrong and that she is under investigation for corruption. None of this is true,” Miller said in a statement.

Earlier Thursday, Bass defended her decision to pursue a master’s degree during her first term in Congress, saying, “No one gets a social work degree to enrich themselves.”

“Rick Caruso knows that the only reason I studied nights and weekends while doing my job for a social work degree was to become a better advocate for children and families,” Bass said during a virtual news conference during which she took two pre-screened questions.

Bass pivoted to criticizing Caruso’s time as a member of USC’s board of trustees from 2007 to earlier this year. Bass said this period at USC coincided with “the ugliest chapter in its history.”

In 2018, The Times revealed that a campus gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall, had been repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching of his mostly undergraduate patients. Hundreds of women came forward, filing lawsuits against USC and triggering a federal inquiry by the U.S. Department of Education.

In the weeks after The Times first revealed allegations of Tyndall, Caruso was asked to be chair of the board of trustees, and he is widely credited for volunteering to help steer the university out of crisis. Among his first acts was announcing an investigation by an outside law firm. He later indicated that he planned to release the firm’s findings.

“He promised a full and transparent investigation,” Bass said Thursday. “But then no report was ever released.”

The university ultimately released decades of complaints and other files related to Tyndall after The Times successfully petitioned a federal court for the records to be unsealed. Caruso is not mentioned in those records, nor was he cited by the Education Department‘s investigation into Tyndall.

This year, Caruso said that there was nothing written to release because the law firm hired to investigate had briefed him and other trustees orally.

“It was a complex, terrible case. We did the right thing. And now to release information with particular details of what happened would just be harmful,” he said. During Caruso’s tenure as chair, USC agreed to pay more than $1.1 billion to former patients of Tyndall.

Bass on Thursday denounced Caruso’s reasoning: “Who is Rick Caruso to tell the survivors of sexual assault that they are not entitled to the truth about what happened to them?”

Caruso brushed off criticism of his own tenure at the helm of the university, calling the attacks “Washington-style politics.”

“I had nothing to do with that and she knows that,” Caruso said of the Tyndall scandal. “But the ad goes up like two seconds after the article comes out…. It’s a slam attack and it’s personal and it’s a lie.”

Times staff writers Dakota Smith and Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.