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Supervisors may cut off Assessor John Noguez’s $197,000 salary

Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez is taken into custody by investigators with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office on Oct. 17, following a yearlong influence–peddling investigation. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will meet behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss cutting off the $197,000 salary of Assessor John Noguez, who has been receiving his paychecks while in jail.

Noguez placed himself on paid leave in June to start preparing his legal defense as a corruption investigation roiled his office, with him as the obvious target. In October, he was arrested on 24 felony counts including bribery, conspiracy and misappropriation of public funds.

He has been receiving his salary in the meantime.

California elected officials can't be removed from office unless they are convicted of a crime or lose a recall election. Under state law, they are entitled to their pay regardless of whether they show up for work.

Noguez's salary can only be withheld if he "ceases to discharge his duties for a period of three consecutive months," said county attorney Albert Ramseyer.

On Sept. 12, nearly 90 days after taking his leave, Noguez met briefly with his office staff, effectively resetting the clock. But sources say he has not had any meaningful contact with the office since then.

He was arrested in mid-October and has been in county jail ever since, unable to make his $1.16-million bail. He must prove that any money he uses for his defense was not obtained through criminal means.

Among other things, he is accused of taking $185,000 in bribes to illegally reduce tax bills for property owners represented by consultant Ramin Salari, who was a generous donor and fund-raiser for Noguez's 2010 campaign.

Salari and two other assessor's office employees have also been charged.

If the county supervisors determine Noguez's prolonged absence – much of it spent in solitary confinement at men's central jail – constitutes abandonment of his post, they can appoint someone else to take his place and stop paying Noguez. The most likely candidate is Santos Kreimann, a veteran county manager tapped to run the assessor's office in June after Noguez took his leave.

The timing could help Noguez in the long run, however. Under a new state law going into effect on Jan. 1, any public servant employed on that date who gets convicted of a felony related to his official duties can be denied his public pension.

Noguez has consistently denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to the charges. His next court date is in late January.

Even if Noguez is found guilty, the new law would not apply to him if he quits or is fired by the end of the month.

Under the current rules, Noguez, 48, would be able to start collecting his pension when he turns 50, according to Gregg Rademacher, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Assn.

Elected officials can already be denied their pensions if they get convicted of a job-related crime, but that only applies to benefits earned while they were in office. Most of Noguez's pension was earned during more than 20 years he worked for the assessor's office before his election to the agency's top job.

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-- Jack Dolan and Abby Sewell

Photo: Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez is taken into custody by investigators with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office on Oct. 17, following a yearlong influence–peddling investigation. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

 
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