Top aide, campaign donor also arrested in assessor corruption probe
A top aide and prominent campaign contributor to Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez were also arrested early Wednesday following a yearlong corruption investigation into the office that determines property taxes on more than 2 million homes and businesses.
About the same time that agents from the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office arrested Noguez, they also picked up Mark McNeil, one of Noguez’s closest confidants in the assessor’s office and Ramin Salari, a professional property tax consultant and Noguez campaign contributor.
Noguez, Salari and McNeil have consistently denied any wrongdoing throughout the course of the long-running investigation.
Authorities did not specify the charges against the trio but said they face dozens of political corruption charges that will be detailed at a 10:30 a.m. news conference.
Bail for Noguez and Salari has been set at $1.3 million. McNeil's bail has been set at $1.1 million.
Last year, investigators for the Los Angeles County district attorney began probing secret, improper tax breaks granted to more than 100 wealthy Westside property owners since Noguez’s election. They also started looking into complaints from assessor’s office employees who claimed they were under pressure to lower property taxes for clients of prominent Noguez contributors, like Salari.
Noguez took an indefinite, paid leave of absence from the $192,000 per year assessor’s job in June after a former county appraiser was charged with 60 felonies related to the Westside reductions.
The ex-county employee, Scott Schenter, told The Times that he granted the reductions in the hope of inspiring the recipients -- many of whom were Salari’s clients -- to donate money to help pay off debt from Noguez’s campaign.
Schenter said he agreed to raise money for the campaign after Noguez promised to promote him if he won. After that, Schenter said, the pressure from Noguez and McNeil to come up with contributions was "brutal."
Noguez, who was elected in November 2010, has acknowledged asking Schenter to help raise money and to look into the Westside properties, but denies instructing him to reduce the owners’ taxes. He also denies having offered Schenter a promotion.
Noguez, McNeil and Salari are expected to appear in court for arraignment on Wednesday afternoon.
-- Jack Dolan, Ruben Vives and Jack Leonard
Photo: The Los Angeles County Assessor's Office at 6120 Bristol Parkway in Culver City. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times