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Assessor will keep $192,000-a-year salary while on leave

June 1, 2012 |  5:44 pm

Embattled Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez said Friday that he was stepping aside, taking an indefinite leave of absence in response to the wide-ranging investigation of influence peddling at his office.

Noguez will continue to receive his regular paycheck, said assessor’s office spokesman Louis Reyes. Noguez’s base pay was $192,000 in 2011, records show.

Noguez has denied any wrongdoing, but he said in a statement Friday that he decided it was best for the assessor’s office that he step aside.

“In the interest of restoring public confidence in the professionalism, integrity and impartiality of the assessor’s office, I intend to take a leave of absence from my duties as assessor,” Noguez wrote in a letter to the county’s Board of Supervisors. “I do not take this decision lightly.”

Noguez did not say how long he would stay away, but he offered to begin his leave as soon as the board appoints a caretaker. Sources close to Noguez say at least one county supervisor has been in negotiations with former Assessor Rick Auerbach to fill the role. Auerbach told The Times: “If I can help, I’d like to help.” The board is scheduled to discuss the matter Wednesday.

Noguez and his top aides are at the center of a Los Angeles County district attorney’s investigation into whether they lowered property taxes for prominent contributors to Noguez’s successful 2010 campaign.

As the county’s elected assessor, Noguez has been responsible for setting the taxable values of every piece of real estate in Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest property tax roll.

“This is a good thing for the assessor’s office as an institution,” Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said of Noguez's leave of absence. “It provides an opportunity for institutional reforms and improvements.”

Noguez’s leave might also aid the district attorney’s investigation, Cooley added, which “is made more difficult when the subject of the investigation is the head of the office. People might be more forthcoming in answering questions of our D.A. investigators and our prosecutors.”

The criminal investigation threw the agency into turmoil, with several top officials resigning in recent months as evidence of Noguez’s close ties to influential tax agents -- consultants who make their living lobbying for lower tax bills -- came to light.

--Jack Dolan, Ruben Vives, Jack Leonard and Jason Song