Assessor John Noguez, associates face at least 32 criminal charges
A total of 32 criminal charges have been filed against Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, his top aide and a campaign contributor as part of a political corruption probe into whether the office reduced property taxes in exchange for contributions and other favors.
Authorities have not yet detailed the specific counts, but were expected to announce the charges at a news conference Wednesday morning. Officials from the district attorney's office said they may also file additional charges at a later date.
Noguez was arrested at his Huntington Park home about 8:20 a.m.; Ramin Salari, a professional property tax consultant and Noguez campaign contributor, was arrested at his home in Encino; and aide Mark McNeil, an employee in the assessor's office, was arrested in West Los Angeles.
In all, four people have been arrested in connection to the alleged corruption in the Assessor's Office. In June, ex-county appraiser Scott Schenter was charged with 60 felonies related to improper tax reductions.
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.
Schenter has 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.
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.
Noguez, Salari and McNeil have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
When Noguez announced that he would take a leave of absence, he said it was not a decision he made lightly.
"I have consistently offered my cooperation with this investigation as well as the full cooperation of the Assessor's Office," Noguez said in a statement. "My interest has been, and continues to be, the health and well-being of the Office, which I am proud to have served for over 27 years."
-- Jack Dolan, Jack Leonard and Ruben Vives