LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Rep. Karen Bass, the leading contender in the race for mayor of Los Angeles, again denied allegations Thursday that a $100,000 full-tuition scholarship she received from USC's social work program has any relation to a federal corruption case involving City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
As she has in the past, Bass insisted Thursday that she obtained the USC degree to become a "better advocate for children and families," and she balked at comparisons to Ridley-Thomas, who is facing federal corruption charges involving, in part, a full scholarship his son received to the USC social work program.
"This case has nothing to do with me, other than in a middle of a political campaign, (mayoral opponent) Rick Caruso is trying to take advantage," Bass told reporters.
Bass' comments came in response to an article in the Los Angeles Times, which pointed to court documents suggesting that federal prosecutors are citing Bass' scholarship as a possible similar instance of a university official — who is also under indictment — trying to curry favor with an elected leader.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office told The Times Bass is not under any type of criminal investigation. The Times reported, however, that prosecutors have declared Bass' scholarship and her dealings with USC "critical" to the Ridley-Thomas bribery case and to their broader portrayal of corruption in the university's social work program.
Marilyn Flynn, the former dean of USC's social work program, was also indicted in the case with Ridley-Thomas.
The prosecutors' filing suggests that by awarding Bass free tuition in 2011, Flynn hoped to obtain the congresswoman's assistance in passing legislation, The Times reported. The court papers indicate that Bass sponsored a bill in Congress that would have expanded USC's and other private universities' access to federal funding for social work, "just as defendant Flynn wanted," according to The Times.
But Bass insisted she sponsored the bill because "it was about childcare social workers, and that's critically needed."
Caruso, Bass' opponent in the November mayoral runoff election, held a news conference of his own Thursday to discuss The Times' article, saying Bass' scholarship amounts to "corruption and dishonesty."
"We cannot afford for the next mayor to govern under a cloud of corruption," he said.
Flynn is charged with what prosecutors allege was a quid pro quo with then-County Supervisor Ridley-Thomas involving an exchange of lucrative county contracts for a scholarship awarded to his son. In court papers, prosecutors cited an email from Flynn in which she noted doing "the same" exchange with Bass, The Times reported.
In many of the court filings cited by the paper, Bass' name is redacted, in accordance with Department of Justice policy. But The Times confirmed her identity through case records, people familiar with the case and copies of emails that were filed in court and later redacted.
Flynn and Ridley-Thomas are scheduled to go on trial in November. The details of Bass' free master's degree from USC could become a contested part of the case, The Times reported. According to a copy of a subpoena filed in August, Flynn's lawyers subpoenaed USC in June for correspondence pertaining to Bass' scholarship and any honors or benefits given to Bass.
Bass, through a representative, denied to The Times that she spoke with Flynn about federal funding for social work programs at private universities. When asked whether it was apparent that Flynn had a legislative agenda in offering her the scholarship, Bass said, "No," according to The Times.
Bass' campaign went on the offensive against Caruso Thursday, releasing an ad accusing the former USC Board of Trustees chairman of failing to protect women at USC from long-term abuse by campus gynecologist George Tyndall.
"The real USC scandal we need to talk about is how Rick Caruso failed to protect these young women and then covered up the sexual assaults against them," Bass said.