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Retired employee links assessor to unauthorized tax cuts, documents show

March 17, 2012 |  9:48 am

County AssessorDocuments reviewed by The Times offer new insights into allegations of misconduct in the Los Angeles County assessor's office.

According to the records, a former county property appraiser who secretly granted large, unauthorized tax breaks to wealthy homeowners told officials that county Assessor John Noguez personally asked him to "look at the properties."

The former employee, Scott Schenter, who resigned in lieu of termination, is now at the center of a criminal investigation of the assessor's office by county prosecutors.

Schenter's allegation is contained in a memo written by his supervisors, who interviewed him while they were investigating his unauthorized manipulation of the county's property assessment roll. They ultimately determined that Schenter had improperly reduced assessments, and therefore annual tax bills, for 125 property owners in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades and other Westside communities.

Noguez's office released the memo and other documents to The Times on Friday afternoon in response to a public records request.

Assessor's office spokesman Louis Reyes said Friday evening that Noguez asked Schenter to look into the assessments for some of the properties. Noguez just wanted Schenter to "check the status," Reyes said, not necessarily reduce their values. Noguez has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Noguez was a high-ranking executive in the assessor's office when he made the request, and was running for the agency's top job. He won election as county assessor in November 2010.

Schenter could not be reached for comment Friday evening. In an affidavit he signed before his January 2011 resignation, he wrote, "I was contacted by new Assessor John Noguez to look into some of the properties. He did not tell me to reduce them."

He did reduce many of them, however, wiping at least $54 million in assessed value from county tax rolls without seeking signatures from his supervisors, which are required for any such alterations of value.


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