A former head of Community Partners was the latest to testify in the ongoing public corruption trial against Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas on Friday, March 10. The former CEO believed it was a good idea to hire Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian, despite “significant internal pushback” with concern the agency would be viewed as a “Ridley-Thomas family charity.”
Gina Kim, with Law360 reports:
On Friday, a California federal jury heard testimony from Paul Vandeventer, the now-retired president and CEO of Community Partners, a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports other community organizations.
Community Partners for years had been sponsoring the African American Civic Engagement Project, an organization affiliated with Ridley-Thomas and the Institution for Nonviolence in Los Angeles, a project of the lawmaker’s wife, Avis Ridley-Thomas. Mark Ridley-Thomas and USC had also donated money to this project in the past, Vandeventer testified.
Vandeventer testified that toward the end of 2017, the veteran lawmaker floated the idea of Community Partners hiring his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, who was expected to be appointed executive director of AACEP after its then-head Vincent Harris left. But Community Partners personnel raised concerns over “the optics” of this hiring.
According to his testimony, AACEP had less than $40,000 in the bank before MRT had his campaign committee cut a check.
AACEP is now aligned with California Calls which lists Anthony Thigpen as its founder and president.
He also testified that Sebastian went through the normal interview process but was not hired and MRT’s $100,000 donation was returned. MRT never disclosed that his son was the subject of a sexual harassment probe where a woman described Sebastian as being “obsessed” with her.
In March 2018, Vandeventer heard from the CEO of United Ways of California that Sebastian Ridley-Thomas moved an AACEP-related project to United Ways, which was to become its fiscal sponsor.
Former LA County Sachi Hamai was presumed to have been on the board of the United Ways of Greater Los Angeles when the $100,000 was rerouted to United Ways. A bio of Hamai was uploaded to the County’s website in June 2018 stating she was still there.
Peter Manzo, the chief executive of United Ways of California, said it was unusual for USC to donate to his organization, a statewide advocacy group. Typically, he said, L.A. donors gave to the local United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
Hamai didn’t leave the board until July 2020 after she got into a public fight with former Sheriff Alex Villanueva over the United Ways proposed ballot measure to defund the sheriff’s department by 10%.
Hamai announced her resignation from LA County the following month on Aug. 12, 2020.
In what was described by LAist as “an unusual move” she left with $1.5 million from the County for security. The settlement agreement was signed by Hamai Aug. 8 and by County Counsel on Aug. 10.
His trial resumes Tuesday.
Emilie St. John is a freelance journalist for 2UrbanGirls.com and contributing writer for the Los Angeles Wave newspaper.