Los Angeles Mayoral Campaign Heats Up With Charges of USC Corruption

·4-min read

The summer lull is officially over in the race for Los Angeles mayor, as both Karen Bass and Rick Caruso have come out of the gate after Labor Day with accusations of corruption involving USC.

Caruso, the billionaire mall developer, finished second in the June primary and is trailing in the polls, and needs to do something to change the trajectory of the race. On Thursday, he held a press conference at the Grove to highlight an L.A. Times story that draws a link between Bass and an ongoing federal corruption case at USC.

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In doing so, he also took a swipe at incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti, saying that Bass would represent “more of the same.”

“We do not need another Eric Garcetti,” Caruso said. “We have seen that the scandals of this current administration are a distraction from the job at hand. We cannot afford for the next mayor to govern under a cloud of corruption.”

The Bass campaign, meanwhile, released an ad late Wednesday that blasts Caruso over a separate USC scandal. Caruso was chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees from 2018 until he launched his campaign in February of this year.

During his tenure, hundreds of women came forward to accuse George Tyndall, a USC gynecologist, of sexual abuse, and the university ultimately agreed to an $852 million settlement. Many of the accusers have called on Caruso and the university to release an internal report on the scandal.

“Caruso’s board stayed silent, and the coverup continues to this very day,” the Bass campaign ad states. “Caruso failed to keep them safe. How’s he going to protect us?”

In the other case, federal prosecutors are preparing to try Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and former USC dean Marilyn Flynn on bribery charges. The allegation is that Ridley-Thomas agreed to funnel contracts to the USC School of Social Work in exchange for free tuition for his son.

Bass also received $95,000 in free tuition for a master’s program at the school years earlier, and it appears prosecutors may seek to draw a parallel between the two cases as they seek to prove the charges against Flynn and Ridley-Thomas. However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has said that Bass is neither a target nor a subject of its investigation.

At the press conference, Caruso called on Bass to release her emails with USC that pertain to the arrangement.

“This is corruption and dishonesty, plain and simple,” he said.

Bass fired back in a statement, saying that “no one gets a social work degree to enrich themselves.”

“Rick Caruso knows that the only reason I studied nights and weekends for a social work degree was to become a better advocate for children and families,” she said.

She also noted that she had subsequently been invited to give a commencement speech at USC when Caruso was chair, and that Caruso “gave me a big hug after I spoke.”

In the same statement, she accused Caruso of having “covered up” the Tyndall abuse report, and called Caruso “an anti-choice Republican.” (He re-registered as a Democrat in January and has expressed his support for abortion rights.)

Communities United for Karen Bass for L.A. Mayor — an independent committee backed by mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and others in the entertainment world — also issued a statement accusing Caruso of calling a press conference to “spit out lies” about Bass.

“Caruso is attacking a nurse and a social worker in an effort to mislead voters and distract from his failed leadership,” said Morgan Miller, chair of the committee. “We demand that Rick Caruso stop the lies and release his tax returns and the findings of the investigation into USC’s culture of sexual assault – the real scandals of this race.”

Also on Thursday, numbers were released showing that the Los Angeles homeless population grew by 1.7% over the last two years. The county homeless population increased by 4.1%.

Garcetti called the figures “encouraging,” when contrasted with double-digit increases in prior years. But Bass called the numbers “terrible” and Caruso also noted at his press conference that the homeless population continues to grow.

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