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L.A. County assessor targeted in tax bill reduction probe

County AssessorThe relationship between L.A. County Assessor John Noguez and a Ferrari-driving "tax agent" has caught the attention of prosecutors in the public integrity division of the district attorney's office.

The unit's criminal investigators opened an inquiry into allegations of special favors granted to property owners after the district attorney's officer received complaints last year from employees of the assessor's office.

Since then, investigators have been interviewing current and former county officials about Ramin Salari, who collected fees for obtaining dramatic reductions in assessed property values for his clients, and Noguez, who won election to county assessor in 2010 with generous contributions from the tax agent, his clients and his immediate family members.

A prosecutor said investigators are examining more than 100 properties to learn whether their assessed values were improperly reduced. Salari and Noguez each refused multiple interview requests.

Salari's attorney, Mark Werksman, said his client "flatly denies exploiting his relationship with anyone at the assessor's office."

In a statement emailed by a spokesman Friday, Noguez said, "I have never directed a property owner to hire any specific consultant." He added, "It is disappointing to learn that some of these consultants traded on knowing me in getting business for themselves."

But campaign finance records, interviews and county emails obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicate that Noguez and Salari have been close for years and have both benefited from the relationship.

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-- Ruben Vives and Jack Dolan

Photo: L.A. County Assessor John Noguez. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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