New investigation of L.A. assessor sought after arrest
Los Angeles City Council members Dennis Zine and Paul Krekorian are proposing an independent examination of property value assessments that were significantly reduced during the term of Assessor John Noguez.
The move comes a week after Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley publicly urged Noguez to resign after warning that indictments were imminent. Noguez has also denied any wrongdoing and said he has no intention of stepping down.
A former Los Angeles County property appraiser accused of improperly slashing the value on more than 100 Westside homes and businesses was taken into custody in Oregon on Monday, marking the first arrest in the wide-ranging corruption probe into the assessor's office.
Prosecutors say Scott Schenter, 49, falsified department documents and unlawfully lowered property values by $172 million for multimillion-dollar homes and businesses. Schenter allegedly secured campaign contributions from the owners for Noguez, authorities said.
"The magnitude of Schenter's suspected betrayal of public trust is almost inconceivable," Cooley said in a prepared statement. "We believe his actions are not isolated."
Schenter, who resigned in lieu of termination in January 2011 after a supervisor discovered his alleged misconduct, is accused on 60 felony counts of falsifying records. U.S. marshals arrested Schenter at his father's home in Hillsboro, a suburb of Portland, Ore., according to Eric Wahlstrom, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service.
Schenter told The Times last month that he secretly and improperly lowered property values to reduce the owners' tax bills. He said he did it in the hope that the wealthy property owners would donate to Noguez.
Schenter also said Noguez offered him a promotion and, along with several top aides, had applied "brutal" pressure to raise campaign funds.
Through a spokesman, Noguez has denied offering Schenter a promotion, instructing him to lower the values of the Westside properties or asking him to approach the owners for contributions.
Noguez acknowledged, however, that he had asked Schenter to "check the status" of some of the properties. He has also admitted asking Schenter to help raise money for his campaign.
On Monday, Noguez's attorney, Michael Proctor, said his client "intends to remain cooperative with this investigation. While I cannot comment directly on the new charges today, I remain convinced that as the facts come out people will understand that he has conducted his affairs in conformity with the law."
Cooley has identified Noguez as a primary target of the broader influence-peddling investigation, which began last year. Also under scrutiny are several high-ranking assessor's office employees and Noguez campaign contributors, including tax consultant Ramin Salari.
Salari's clients dominated the list of property owners who received improper tax breaks from Schenter. Salari has denied any wrongdoing.
— Ruben Vives and Jack Dolan
Photo: People conducting business at the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times