USC requests federal investigation into donation by county supervisor Ridley-Thomas

Friday, August 3, 2018
USC donation under scrutiny
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Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (left) made a $100,000 donation to USC that ended up with a nonprofit headed by his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (right).

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The highest official at the University of Southern California has confirmed that he has requested a federal investigation into a $100,000 donation from County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

The money made stops at several entities including the school before landing at a nonprofit headed by the supervisor's son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

In addition, USC hired Sebastian Ridley-Thomas as a part-time instructor and awarded him a scholarship to pursue a graduate degree.

The transactions were first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Financial records obtained by Eyewitness News reveal that the supervisor wrote the six-figure check out of his campaign fund called Committee for a Better LA.

The money then went to USC's Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Its dean, Marilyn Flynn, handled the next transaction.

Flynn then sent it to the next entity, United Ways California, designating it for a think tank called Policy Research and Practice Initiative. That is a nonprofit headed by Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.

Though the U.S. attorney has not opened a formal investigation the optics are not good for the supervisor according to Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson.

"This is going to feed into the perception that politicians are in this to help themselves and in this to help their family and they are not in to help their constituents," said Levinson, a specialist in election law and campaign finance.

A statement released by the supervisor's attorney, Stephen Kaufman, says,"We do not believe that it raises any legal or ethical issues, and it had nothing to do with his son's scholarship or employment at the University."

The chair of USC's Board of Trustees, Rick Caruso, says in an internal letter that he alerted the U.S. attorney and disclosed that Marilyn Flynn is no longer dean of the School of Social Work.

"As a board, we are steadfast in the determination that we will not tolerate unethical behavior at USC and people will be held accountable."

The university also fired Sebastian Ridley-Thomas - a move which was swiftly condemned by his lawyer.

"We strongly believe USC's decision to terminate him was erroneous and precipitous. We are now actively considering legal remedies," stated the son's lawyer Lance Olson.

United Ways of California offered no response.

According to officials familiar with investigations of public funds, investigators will examine layers of transactions.

They will determine whether the donation was a legitimate effort by the supervisor to fund research into the needs of the African-American community conducted by his son or acts of concealment and potential corruption.