Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez and Ramin Salari, a tax consultant accused of bribing him to have taxes lowered on his clients' properties, had their bails slightly reduced today, but likely not enough for the elected official to get out of jail. Salari was arrested last week at his mother's house in Encino.
Noguez, 47, and Ramin Salari, 49, have each been jailed in lieu of nearly $1.4 million bail since their arrests last week. Their attorneys asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba to lower their bails, and the judge agreed -- but she only lowered it to $1.16 million.
``It still boils down to the same issue ... the abuse of trust,'' Torrealba said. The judge said she believed the amount of loss to taxpayers was relevant in calculating fair bail and that the ``systematic abuse of public trust'' raised public safety concerns, despite arguments to the contrary by defense attorneys.
Noguez attorney Michael Proctor said his client would not be able to post bail of that amount. While prosecutors and Salari's attorney, Mark Werksman, said they still need to work out details, it appeared that Salari would be able to post bail. A third defendant in the case, Mark McNeil, 54, was released Wednesday afternoon on $1.1 million bail and is due in court for arraignment Nov. 7.
Noguez, Salari and McNeil were arrested Wednesday morning. Attorneys for Noguez and Salari insisted their clients were not flight risks, asserting they had stayed put even though they knew they were targets of a district attorney's investigation.
Prosecutors argued that Noguez, who was charged as Juan Rodriguez, ``appears to lead a double life.'' In a motion opposing a reduction in bail, they dismissed Noguez's explanation that he uses his mother's name because she raised him. ``Noguez is not his mother's name -- it is Anaya,'' according to the motion.
But Proctor said Noguez's mother's last name at birth was Anaya-Noguez and that her name had simply been shortened on public documents. ``It is a very, very common occurrence in this country for people with Hispanic last names,'' Proctor said. Proctor also blasted prosecutors for questioning Noguez's sexual orientation. According to the prosecution's motion, Noguez represented himself as openly gay to close business associates and also ``claimed to be gay'' when he was booked into county jail.
Citing family ties to Mexico, prosecutors argued, ``(Noguez) seems to have dissembled in every aspect of his personal life as well -- to the extent that it is difficult to determine his true name, domestic status or where his true family ties are.'' Proctor called the argument ``demeaning to everyone in this courtroom.'' The attorney said Noguez married Lilliana Guerrero in 2001, they have lived together under the same roof and ``he loves her.'' ``It's a complicated issue, one's sexuality,'' but ``it doesn't make one duplicitous,'' Proctor said.
Proctor pointed out that his client ``didn't run, he didn't hide, he stayed in his Huntington Park home,'' and turned over his passport to defense counsel months ago. Proctor asked Thusday that Noguez's bail be lowered to $100,000, but today declined to cite a specific number.
Salari's attorney, Mark Werksman, had asked the judge Thursday to reduce Salari's bail to $575,000, but also did not try to push for a specific dollar amount today. He cited ``extensive family ties, real estate holdings and a home in Calabasas'' owned by his client as evidence that he wasn't a flight risk, though Salari is an Arizona resident and his Calabasas house is on the market, according to prosecutors.
Deputy District Attorney Susan Schwartz said Noguez accepted bribes from Salari and that the bail requested by the prosecution was ``warranted by the charges.''
``The actual loss in cold hard dollars ... is $1,161,919.95,'' Schwartz said of tax revenues lost as a result of alleged corruption, adding that Noguez ``sold the good name of the assessor's office for the benefit of himself and his cronies.''
Noguez, who was elected in November 2010 and is on leave from the assessor's office, is charged with 24 felony counts, including 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer, five counts of perjury, four counts of accepting bribes and two counts of conspiracy. Salari is charged with 23 felonies -- 13 counts of misappropriation, eight counts of bribing an executive officer and two counts of conspiracy. McNeil is charged with 13 felony counts of misappropriation by a public officer and one felony count of conspiracy.
The criminal complaint alleges that Noguez accepted $185,000 in bribes from Salari between February 2010 and September 2010. Salari also is accused of paying $100,000 in bribes to a former appraiser, Scott Schenter, who was arrested in May in connection with corruption allegations and was the first to be charged in the case.
Soon after receiving the checks and a list of properties represented by Salari, McNeil or his representatives appeared at Assessment Appeals Board hearings that resulted in the reduction of the assessed value on numerous properties, including the Old Spaghetti Factory and properties in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach and Torrance, according to the criminal complaint.
The complaint also alleges that Noguez approached Schenter between October 2010 and November 2010 and told him to ``take care of our buddy Ramin'' Salari and that ``we have to take care of our donors.'' Schenter was arrested May 21, alleged to have falsified documents and reduced property values by $172 million in exchange for campaign contributions to Noguez.
He is awaiting a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial on 30 felony counts each of falsifying accounts and falsifying records. Noguez is due back in court on Nov. 7, when a date for a preliminary hearing is set to be scheduled.