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Former Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, 68, was suspended from the LA Council following the October 2021 federal indictment. He is charged with one count each of conspiracy and bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud, and 15 counts of honest services wire fraud.
Ridley-Thomas federal corruption trial opens in downtown LA
By FRED SHUSTER
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—Opening statements are expected tomorrow in the federal criminal trial of suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who while a member of the Board of Supervisors alleg- edly steered county contracts to USC's social work school in exchange for benefits for his son.
Ridley-Thomas, 68, was suspended from the Los Angeles City Council following the October 2021 federal indictment. He is charged with one count each of conspiracy and bribery, two counts of honest services mail fraud and 15 counts of honest services wire fraud. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
A jury was seated in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday to hear the case against Ridley-Thomas.
Prosecutors contend that in exchange for Ridley-Thomas' efforts on behalf of the then-dean of the social work school, Marilyn Flynn, the politician's son Sebastian was given admission to USC, a full tuition scholarship, and a paid professorship.
Flynn admitted helping to disguise and funnel $100,000 from Ridley-Thomas' campaign account through the school to another nonprofit, United Ways of California, for the benefit of the Policy, Research & Practice Initiative, a new nonprofit initiative founded by Sebastian, according to her plea agreement.
By funneling the payment through USC, Ridley-Thomas and co-defendant Flynn attempted to disguise the true source of the payment to make it appear as though USC, not the then-supervisor, was the generous benefactor supporting his son and PRPI, prosecutors say.
The US Attorney's Office alleges that Ridley-Thomas delivered on his end of the bargain. As a supervisor in 2018, he voted on three county proposals that Flynn had sought to shore up her school's shoddy financial
situation, including a vote approving a much more lucrative amended TeleHealth agreement with the USC School of Social Work, prosecutors contend. He also allegedly sought to influence key county decision-makers associated with the approvals and made sure Flynn knew of his efforts.
Flynn, 84, of Los Feliz, pleaded guilty in September to one count of bribery, admitting that she agreed to route money from Ridley-Thomas to Sebastian's nonprofit. She is scheduled to be sentenced June 26.
Prosecutors say the amended Telehealth contract was expected to generate about $9 million a year for the social work school.
As a result of the deal, Sebastian became a professor of social work and public policy at USC—despite lacking a graduate degree. He was later terminated over questions about his original appointment and concerns by the university over the $100,000 donation. He also obtained a full-tuition scholarship and graduate school admission, papers filed in Los Angeles federal court show.
Flynn was dean of the School of Social Work at USC for 21 years until her departure in 2018. She had originally been facing the same slate of federal charges as Ridley-Thomas.
Responding to news of Flynn's plea agreement, USC issued a statement last year saying that after the university learned during the summer of 2018 about unethical conduct by the former dean, "we quickly disclosed the matter to the US Attorney's Office. Marilyn Flynn has not been employed by the university
since September 2018. USC is not a party to the criminal case but respects the judicial process."
Ridley-Thomas is a giant figure in local politics, previously serving on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then serving in the state Assembly and state Senate before he was elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020 when he returned to the City Council.
He has a doctorate in social ethics from USC and spent 10 years as executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, beginning in 1981.
Nipsey Hussle assailant found guilty of first degree murder
By TERRI VERMEULEN KEITH
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—A man who gunned down rapper Nipsey Hussle in front of the musician's Crenshaw District clothing store, but whose attorney insisted the killing was an impulsive act committed in the heat of passion—was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder.
Jurors also found Eric Holder Jr., 32, guilty of two counts each of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm involving two other people who were injured in the March 31, 2019, shooting, along with one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. Jurors also found true allegations that he personally and intentionally discharged a handgun and that he personally inflicted great bodily injury on one of the victims.
Holder's attorney argued throughout the trial that the shooting was carried out in the "heat of passion," and did not rise to the level of first-degree murder. He argued that, at most, Holder committed manslaughter when he killed the 33-year-old rapper, whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom, outside Hussle's story near Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue.
Jurors deliberated for nearly five hours on Friday, then met for just over a half-hour Wednesday morning before announcing they had reached a verdict.
Holder is facing a potential life prison term when he is sentenced Sept. 15. Shortly after the verdict, Deputy District Attorney John McKinney told reporters, "I want to say on behalf of the District Attorney's Office that we are both proud and I am personally a little relieved that the verdict came in a complete, absolute agree- ment with the charges that Eric Holder murdered Ermias Asghedom in cold blood."
"... We hope that today is a day in which the Asghedom family, the friends and fans of Nipsey Hussle around the world find some measure of closure," the prosecutor said. "Obviously nothing that happened here today can heal the wound. Nothing that happened here today can restore Mr. Asghedom to this world. But again, we hope that there is some resounding peace in the fact that his killer will be in prison—likely for the rest of his life."
Defense attorney Aaron Jansen said in a statement that he was "deeply" disappointed with the jury's finding of first-degree murder, but that the defense was "grateful that the jury agreed with us, in part, that the case was over-charged" involving the other two men.
He said the defense will present Superior Court Judge H. Clay Jacke with "substantial evidence relating to Mr. Holder Jr.'s mental health," along with filing a notice of appeal on behalf of Holder.
When the trial began last month, Holder's attorney conceded that his client "shot and killed" the rapper, but said the crime in which his client fired with one gun in each hand occurred in the "heat of passion."
In his closing argument, Jansen told jurors: "This was an act of impulse and rashness."
The defense attorney said his client had "no cooling-off period" after being "called publicly a snitch by some- one as famous as Nipsey Hussle" nine minutes and 10 seconds earlier.
"This is a provocation that stirs up rage and powerful emotions," Jansen said. Holder's attorney also con- tended that the case was "overcharged from the beginning,'' and that the correct charge against Holder involving the rapper's slaying should have been voluntary manslaughter—an option Judge H. Clay Jacke told jurors earlier they could consider.
The prosecutor told jurors that the killing was "cold-blooded" and "calculated," saying Holder had "quite a bit of time for premeditation and deliberation" before returning to the parking lot near Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard where the rapper was shot 11 times.
"He's not consumed by rage," the prosecutor said, elaborating the defense's argument that he had been provoked was "nonsense."
Hussle was a "successful artist from the same neighborhood as Eric Holder, who's an unsuccessful artist," the prosecutor said.
"I submit to you that the motive for killing Nipsey Hussle had little to do with the conversation they had. ... There's pre-existing jealousy," the prosecutor said, prompting a quick objection from the defense attorney.
"Saying, 'You're through,' before shooting him and shooting him a number of times ... kicking him in the head, that's personal ... What makes this murder first-degree is premeditation and deliberation," McKinney said.
McKinney told the panel Hussle joined a gang as a youngster, changed over time and "wanted to change the neighborhood," but remained accessible without an entourage, security or fanfare while standing outside his business when he was shot by somebody with whom he had shaken hands just minutes before on "just another beautiful Sun- day afternoon in Los Angeles."
"You can't bring Nipsey back ... But you can do justice. Please do justice," McKinney told the panel shortly before the case was handed over to the jury.
The deputy district attorney said the attempted murder charges were a "closer question," but said he believed that jurors would ultimately con- clude that they were "not mere accidental shootings."
Jurors acquitted Holder of the attempted murder charge involving Kerry Lathan, who was shot in the back, finding the defendant guilty instead of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a firearm. The prosecutor said the panel—which found Holder guilty of the same charges involving a second victim who was grazed by a bullet—may not have been given the verdict form for attempted murder involving that victim.
Holder's attorney said there was "no hatred" and "no jealousy towards Nipsey Hussle" over his successful music career, telling jurors the allegation of snitching was a "serious" accusation made in public by some- one of the rapper's stature and that Hussle didn't provide his client with any details when questioned.
"It's not victim-blaming, it's not an excuse and it's not a justification," Jansen said.
The defense attorney also said his client—who was "just living his life in Long Beach" and wasn't in a gang any longer—had been overcharged with attempted murder involving the two other men who were injured in the gunfire, saying that "he had no reason to kill these other two individuals."
Jurors heard eight days of testimony during the trial, which was delayed for a day last Tuesday following what Holder's attorney said was an attack on Holder in jail.
Jansen told reporters outside court last Wednesday that his client lost consciousness after being attacked the previous morning in a jail holding cell with other inmates while waiting to be taken to court. He subsequently underwent an MRI and required three staples to the back of his head, also suffering a swollen left eye and swelling on the left side of his face, according to the attorney.
The jury was shown autopsy photos during the testimony of a medical examiner who said Hussle suffered 11 gunshot wounds from his head to one of his feet.
Dr. Lawrence Nguyen—who reviewed the results of the autopsy done by another medical examiner who is unavailable to testify—told jurors that he concluded the cause of the rapper's death was "multiple gunshot wounds."
"I believe the number of shots to be within the realm of 10 to 11," Nguyen told the downtown Los Angeles jury. One of the rapper's wounds— caused by a bullet that entered through the rapper's right abdomen—severed his spinal cord and would likely have caused paralysis in the lower extremities if he had survived the shooting, the medical examiner testified.
During the defense's portion of the case, private investigator Robert Freeman told jurors that being called a snitch could put a gang member at risk of being beaten or killed. He noted that it would be more dangerous for an accusation about snitching to be made against someone in public where others could hear it and that something said by someone with a high status within a gang is "almost gold" on the streets.
Freeman, a former Los Angeles police officer who acknowledged being terminated from the force while he was still on probation, also told jurors that the firing of two guns—one in each hand that Holder allegedly wielded during the shooting—would lessen the accuracy of the shots. He noted that a two-handed grip on a gun is the best way to shoot with accuracy.
Holder did not testify in his own defense.
He has remained behind bars since his arrest two days after the shooting. His attorney told jurors that he surrendered himself at a mental health clinic in Bellflower.
After Hussle's death, thousands of people were on hand in April 2019 for a service in his honor, with singer Stevie Wonder and rapper Snoop Dogg among those paying tribute to him.
In a letter that was read during the service, former President Barack Obama wrote, "While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that, even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going."
The rapper-entrepreneur was posthumously honored with two Grammy Awards in 2020 for best rap perfor- mance for "Racks in the Middle" and for best rap/sung performance for "Higher."
Herman "Cowboy" Douglas, who was at the shopping center that day and testified as a prosecution witness, cried softly outside court after the verdict.
He told reporters later that he still wants to understand why his close friend was shot and killed, saying that the rapper "never called that man a snitch."
"It was so senseless. Why?" he said, adding that a "good person" was taken from the world.
"He had finally arrived. He had finally made it," Douglas said of Nipsey Hussle.
Drakeo, whose real name was Darrell Caldwell, was taken to a hospital in critical condition, Dec. 18, where he later died.
Drakeo stabbed at LA music fest
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—Los Angeles rapper Drakeo the Ruler has died after being stabbed at a star-studded 12-hour concert at Banc of California Stadium at Exposition Park, according to multiple media reports Dec. 19.
Officials have not confirmed the victim's death or identity, but one of the rapper's representatives confirmed the information with Rolling Stone magazine and the Guardian, and colleagues were posting their shock and
condolences on social media.
The California Highway Patrol released the following statement Sunday:
"On Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, at approximately 8:36 PM, a fight broke out behind the main stage of the Once Upon A Time In LA music festival in Los Angeles. During the altercation, one man was severely injured by a suspect wielding an edged weapon. Officers from the California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles Police Depart- ment, and Los Angeles Fire Department responded to the scene. The victim was transported to a local area hospital. The case is currently under investigation by the CHP. Any witnesses with information about this incident are asked to contact Southern Division Investigative Services Unit at 323-644-9550.''
Drakeo, whose real name was Darrell Caldwell, was taken to a hospital in critical condition where he later died, according to multiple outlets including the Los Angeles Times, TMZ and the online publication Complex. He had just turned 28 on Dec. 1.
The Once Upon a Time in LA Music Festival, which was slated to run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, was shut down early by police and firefighters after the violence broke out, according to Officer G. Todd of the LAPD's Operations Center.
Artists including Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Ice Cube, George Clinton, Al Green, the Isley Brothers and Cypress Hill were scheduled to perform. Video from the scene showed several people arguing and fighting outside the concert just before the stabbing, but it was unclear what sparked the confrontation.
"There was an altercation in the roadway backstage," a Live Nation spokesperson said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. "Out of respect for those involved and in coordination with local authorities, artists and organizers (we) decided not to move forward with remaining sets so the festival was ended an hour early."
The LAPD tweeted at 10:34 p.m. Saturday that "There has been an incident at the Once Upon A Time in LA festival at the Banc of California. The festival has concluded early."
Overnight, social media was filled with tributes to Caldwell, including one from fellow rapper Drake, who collaborated with him earlier this year on the song "Talk to Me."
"Nah man this s--- isn't right for real, wtf are we doing," Drake wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of the
two together. "Always picked my spirit up with your energy. RIP Drakeo."
Snoop Dogg tweeted a statement about the incident Sunday morning.
"I'm saddened by the events that took place last night at the Once Upon a Time in LA festival. My condolences go out to the family and friends of Drakeo the Ruler," he wrote. "I'm not with anything negative and as one of the many performers, I was there to spread positive vibes only to my city of LA. Last night I was in my dress-ing room when I was informed about the incident and chose to immediately leave the festival grounds.
"My prayers go out to everyone affected by tragedy," the Long Beach rapper continued. "Please take care,
love one another and stay safe ya'll. I'm praying for peace in hip hop."
Journalist Jeff Weiss shared his thoughts on Twitter.
"RIP Drakeo, the greatest West Coast artist of a generation, a legend who invented a new rap language of slippery cadences, nervous rhythms, and psychedelic slang, who beat life twice only to suffer the most tragic fate conceiv- able," Weiss wrote, punctuated with a broken heart emoji. "The Ruler, once, always, and forever."
Caldwell was a Los Angeles native who has released 10 mixtapes since 2015 and put out his first studio album earlier this year titled, "I Am Mr. Mosely."
Critics have cited his unique flow and "oddly expressive, poetic word-choices." The Times called him "the
most original West Coast stylist in decades."
He recorded the mixtape "Thank You For Using GTL" at Men's Central Jail while awaiting trial in the 2016 killing of a 24-year-old man, according to The Times, which said he was acquitted of murder and attempted murder charges. Caldwell later pleaded to conspiracy charges in connection with the killing and was released in November 2020, the newspaper added.