Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, who has been on leave while investigators probed allegations that his office reduced property tax assessments in exchange for campaign contributions, was arrested Wednesday. Two other people have been arrested in connection with the case, one of whom is Ramin Salari, a tax consultant and Noguez campaign contributor who was arrested in Encino.
Noguez, whose real name is Juan Renaldo Rodriguez, was taken into custody shortly before 8:30 a.m. at his Huntington Park home by District Attorney's Office investigators. The 47-year-old county assessor, who was elected in November 2010, was being held in lieu of $1.385 million bail.
He 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, according to the District Attorney's Office. Also arrested this morning were Mark McNeil, a principal assessor promoted by Noguez to head the Major Appraisal Division, and Ramin Salari, a tax consultant and Noguez campaign contributor, according to prosecutors. McNeil, who was taken into custody at his West Los Angeles home, was being held in lieu of $1.16 million bail. He is charged with 13 felony counts of misappropriation by a public officer and one felony count of conspiracy.
Salari was arrested in Encino and was jailed in lieu of $1.36 million bail. He is charged with 23 felony counts, including 13 counts of misappropriation, eight counts of bribing an executive officer and two counts of conspiracy. A criminal complaint alleges that Noguez accepted $185,000 in bribes from Salari between February 2010 and September 2010.
Salari is also 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. Soon after receiving the checks and a list of properties represented by Salari, McNeil appeared at hearings and reduced 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 District Attorney's Office.
The criminal complaint also alleges that Noguez told Schenter to ``take care of our buddy Ramin'' and ``we have to take care of our donors.'' Schenter was arrested May 21 in connection with allegations that he falsified documents and reduced property values by $172 million in exchange for campaign contributions to Noguez. Schenter 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.
The arrests are part of an ongoing investigation into allegations of public corruption in the assessor's office, said District Attorney Steve Cooley.
``Los Angeles County voters and taxpayers deserve honest, hard-working elected and appointed officials who will serve the best interests of the people,'' the district attorney said. ``Residents must have confidence that their government is not for sale to the highest bidder or the highest briber.''
Cooley in May called on Noguez to resign while the investigation was continuing.
``I don't think he should be there,'' the county's top prosecutor said May 16. ``In my view, he should resign in light of everything that's come out publicly and because it's interfering with the discharge of that important office's critical functions,'' Cooley said at the time. ``And I think that a change over there is entirely appropriate so that some charges in personnel and other reforms can be implemented to restore the integrity of the organization.''
The Los Angeles Times has reported that an election contribution-tax reduction tradeoff scheme may have been occurring for more than a decade at the assessor's office. Schenter told The Times that Noguez had pressured him to lower tax assessments and extract campaign contributions. Noguez, who may appear in court as early as this afternoon, has denied wrongdoing. He announced June 1 that he was taking a leave of absence.