Marilyn Flynn, ex-USC dean in corruption case with Ridley-Thomas, sentenced to 3 years probation

Four people walking outdoors.
Marilyn Flynn, second from left, entering court in September 2022. On Monday, Flynn was sentenced to 18 months of home confinement after admitting to bribing former L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of USC’s social work program who admitted to bribing Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in exchange for his help securing the renewal of a county contract, was sentenced Monday to 18 months of home confinement.

Flynn, 84, was placed on three years of probation and ordered to pay $150,000 at her sentencing hearing in downtown Los Angeles.

Lawyers for Flynn had sought a probation term without any home confinement, but U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer balked at the proposal, citing the “rot of public corruption,” the severity of Flynn’s offenses and the objective of deterring similar crimes.


Under home confinement, Flynn can leave her residence only for medical, legal or court-approved appointments. Her attorneys asked for a less restrictive curfew — in which she could leave her home during the day — but the judge sternly rejected the request.

“I seriously considered imprisonment,” Fischer said. “I take it she prefers not to go to prison.”

“That’s correct,” defense attorney Vicki Podberesky replied.

Before the sentence was handed down, Flynn offered brief remarks. “I’m really greatly embarrassed, obviously, to be here today,” Flynn said. “I hope you understand that I deeply regret the consequences of my actions, my lapse in care.

“I think I would never imagine that in a career of 50 years, the culmination point would be a judgment of wrongdoing,” she said, later lamenting “the distress this caused to the university and ... the constituents in the School of Social Work.”

Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in September, admitting that she agreed in the spring of 2018 to send $100,000 from USC to the United Ways of California, which was sponsoring a new nonprofit led by Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian. The outgoing money from USC coincided with the donation of $100,000 to USC’s social work program from a political campaign associated with Mark Ridley-Thomas.

At the time, the elder Ridley-Thomas was chair of L.A. County’s Board of Supervisors, the five-member body that oversees a $30-billion budget and administers social services, public works, healthcare and public safety across the county.


In a hearing last year, Flynn acknowledged that the circuitous flow of money — from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign to USC to the United Ways of California — was done to prevent it from “being publicly known that the money came from him.”

Flynn said she agreed to route the money for Ridley-Thomas because “implicitly I understood” that he would help set up a key meeting between her and a county official who could facilitate the renewal of the contract to USC.

Unlike Flynn, Ridley-Thomas contested the charges against him and was ultimately convicted of bribery, conspiracy, and mail and honest services wire fraud. He faces the prospect of years in federal prison. And although he was not present in court Monday for his co-defendant’s sentencing, he cast a shadow over the proceedings.

Federal prosecutors have said that Flynn took responsibility “in a fulsome and extraordinary manner,” noting that she pleaded guilty without filing “frivolous” litigation and averting a trial, and that she even offered up evidence that incriminated herself, according to court papers. Flynn, through her attorneys, told prosecutors how she improperly used a vendor account at USC to expedite the flow of money to Ridley-Thomas’ son’s nonprofit.

“She didn’t point the finger at other people and play the victim,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Lindsey Greer Dotson said Monday in court.

“This is not a case in which she was looking to line her pockets and make money,” said Brian Hennigan, one of Flynn’s defense attorneys. “The one who pushed the idea was Mark Ridley-Thomas.”


Federal prosecutors have agreed that greater culpability lies in one of the region’s foremost power brokers. In court papers, prosecutors said Flynn “did not conjure up a scheme to funnel Ridley-Thomas’ campaign funds through USC on her own.”

“[Flynn] acted, time and again, at the direction and request of Ridley-Thomas,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors vowed to seek a prison sentence against Ridley-Thomas but have not yet specified a term of months or years. Their sentencing papers are due early next month.

Although Flynn avoided time behind bars, her guilty plea and home confinement term mark a shameful denouement to decades spent in public service and academia.

“She made a mistake,” Hennigan said. He noted that friends vanished and “people stopped talking to her,” a stigma of such a public scandal trailing Flynn in her final years.

“This is a career of 40-plus years. ... Now that’s tarnished and the record is blemished,” he said.


Judge Fischer recognized the tragedy before her.

“It is unfortunate that such an illustrious career has come to an end this way,” the judge said.