The Los Angeles County Supervisory Board will hire an outside law firm to investigate the contracts that are at the heart of the federal corruption charges against a former colleague, Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Ridley-Thomas, now a Los Angeles city councilor, was indicted last week along with former USC dean Marilyn Louise Flynn in a 20-count indictment alleging he had led millions of dollars from county contracts to Flynn’s department to help her son.
On Tuesday, the five supervisors unanimously approved the independent inquiry, which will review the contracts as well as the county’s current policies.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell joined the board in November 2020, replacing Ridley-Thomas in the 2nd arrondissement.
The other four supervisors – Hilda Solis, Sheila Kuehl, Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger – sat on the board with Ridley-Thomas and approved many of the board’s actions in question.
“I was not aware of any irregularities – and I would not have tolerated any action that attempted to defraud the residents of this county or undermine their confidence in the local government,” Barger said in a statement. “As someone who has worked for Los Angeles County for decades, I can say I think this is an anomaly.”
Solis, who drafted the motion calling for an independent investigation, has not publicly addressed his role in approving the measures. Kuehl and Hahn also didn’t address their roles.
Ridley-Thomas, who served on the board from 2008-2020, has denied any wrongdoing and said he will fight what he called “outrageous allegations.”
He is withdrawing from participation in city council meetings and committees but will not resign, he said in a letter to fellow council members on Monday.
On Wednesday, the board will consider a proposed suspension.
Ridley-Thomas is accused of conspiring with Flynn, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to funnel millions of county contracts to college in return for his son Sebastian’s admission to study graduate students with a full scholarship and a paid faculty position.
Prosecutors allege the scheme between Ridley-Thomas and Flynn began when he was chairman of the board in 2017.
Flynn’s school was facing a significant budget deficit and she would have wanted Ridley-Thomas to approve millions of dollars in contracts from the County Child and Family Services Department, the Probation Department and the Department of mental health, according to the indictment.
One of the requests was for the extension of an existing contract for USC Telehealth to provide remote therapy to children and youth.
Supervisors unanimously approved an 18-month contract with USC Telehealth in March 2016 for $ 547,500.
Ridley-Thomas, Kuehl and Solis voted for the contract, along with Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich, who are no longer on the board.
On July 31, 2018, the board unanimously approved the contract extension of $ 530,323, bringing the reimbursement rate to $ 120 per session.
Solis, Kuehl, Hahn and Barger voted for the contract, along with Ridley-Thomas.
The favors Ridley-Thomas allegedly did to Flynn also involved collaborations between USC and county agencies.
On August 1, 2017, a motion co-authored by Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl created a new center, run by the USC School of Social Work and the Probation Department, to help former inmates integrate into society.
The board unanimously approved another collaboration between the USC School of Social Work and the probation department, called Probation University, on October 17, 2017, in a motion co-authored by Hahn and Ridley-Thomas.
Kuehl, Hahn, Barger and Solis, as well as Ridley-Thomas, voted for both collaborations.
On Tuesday, Hahn made clear his support for the outside investigation.
“Our former colleague deserves his day in court, so for me it is not a rush to judge in this regard,” she said, “but in light of the serious allegations, I believe this independent audit is something we need and we have to do. ”