Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the front-runner to be the next mayor of Los Angeles, has been linked to a federal bribery case involving her former school, the University of Southern California, and its former dean of social work.
Prosecutors have indicted former Los Angeles County supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of the USC social work program, on charges of fraud and bribery. The Los Angeles Times reported that Ridley-Thomas and Flynn are accused of conspiring to divert money from the county into the university in exchange for getting his son a full-tuition scholarship for graduate school and a paid position as a professor.
According to the Times, the scholarship Bass received, as well as her dealings with the school, are described as "critical" by prosecutors to their case, though there is no indication that she is under criminal investigation herself.
In order to support their argument that Flynn and Ridley-Thomas engaged in a quid pro quo arraignment, prosecutors noted an email Flynn sent regarding her agreement with Ridley-Tomas stated: "We will offer a full scholarship ... I did the same for Karen Bass — full scholarship for our funds."
Prosecutors allege in a July court filing that Flynn granted Bass free tuition in 2011 with the hope of getting her help in passing a piece of legislation, and they claim that Bass would go on to co-sponsor a bill that "made private universities like USC eligible for matching grant funds, just as defendant Flynn wanted."
Thom Mrozek, the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles' director of media relations, said, "At present and based on the evidence obtained to date, Rep. Bass is not a target or a subject of our office's investigation."
Bass, in a statement, said that she never spoke with Flynn about federal funding for private universities' social work programs and that it was not apparent when Flynn offered her a scholarship that she had any ulterior motives.
"Everybody knows that the welfare of children and families has been a passion and policy focus of mine for decades," the congresswoman said. "The only reason I studied nights and weekends for a master's degree was to become a better advocate for children and families — period."
She added, "I did not author any legislation that benefited USC."
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