Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva caught the ire of county administrators when he alluded to the former CEO possibly committing a felony while she served on the board of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles (UWGLA). The federal probe of then County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is due to a $100,000 donation MRT made to USC, which was filtered through a non-profit, before landing at a think tank controlled by Ridley-Thomas’ son Sebastian.
Sheriff Villanueva alluded to a felony being committed when former County CEO Sachi Hamai was on the board of UWGLA while the agency was supporting a ballot Meausre J to divert millions from the Sheriff’s budget to mental health and jail diversion services.
Hamai claimed she had already stepped down from the board prior to their vote on the matter. Measure J passed on the November 2020 ballot, which propelled one of its spokespersons to an Assembly seat with the backing of Mark Ridley-Thomas. Both Isaac Bryan and Sydney Kamlager-Dove assumed the seat for Assembly District 54 after the abrupt resignation of Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, and had the backing of MRT, which many observers believed was his round the bout way of maintaining control over the seat.
Hamai would eventually leave her employment with the County and walk away with a $1.5 million settlement citing “fears” about her safety, for the public fighting with the Sheriff.
“Giving the outgoing CEO who makes way north of half a million dollars in annual salary $1.5 million — I think that’s a gift of public money, but I’m not too sure. That’s just my opinion,” Villanueva said.
Was the large payout possibly connected to Ridley-Thomas’ donation to USC which was funneled through the United Way of Greater Los Angeles parent United Ways of California? Was Hamai already gone when the transaction occurred?
The indictment details how MRT knew his son was under investigation and would resign but needed a job due to his debt.
MRT’s campaign account, Committee for a Better L.A., cut a $100,000 check to Community Partners, who returned it within weeks citing “nepotistic optics” of the politician using campaign funds to benefit his son.
MRT then cut a check to USC who then wired $100,000 to United Ways of CA, whose CEO Peter Manzo found the transaction odd. The Times reported the following:
Manzo 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.
“My impression was that [Sebastian Ridley-Thomas has] got a good project, and they are trying to do the right thing,” Manzo said.
Manzo also indicated the money didn’t go to Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, it went to an employee of his think tank, Zanetta Smith. Smith appears to be identified in the indictment as “Individual 1” who was the sole employee of Sebastian’s now defunct organization.
Is it a stretch to consider the donation was intentionally routed to the state group, since Hamai was a board member in LA?
If so, could one assume her extraordinary payout was a kickback of sorts? Or as Villanueva calls it a “gift” of public funds?
The indictment refers to “County Official 2” who was a high-level public official in position to help USC secure amendments to a Department of Mental Health contract with the County. MRT then exerted “pressure” on the official to make the changes to the contract.
Who would be in a position to do such a thing?