Assessor John Noguez should resign, county supervisor says
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who had previously called for Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez to step down, reiterated Wednesday that he believes Noguez is unfit for office.
"This case is fraud and he should resign immediately so the county can move forward,” Antonovich said in an interview after Noguez's arrest. “He has lost all credibility.”
Antonovich also said he believes that others will soon face criminal charges.
"I know that there will be others who will be indicted in the near future because this cannot be a one- or two-man operation. It’s important the district attorney move quickly."
Noguez, his aide Mark McNeil and campaign contributor Ramin Salari were all arrested Wednesday morning as part of a yearlong investigation into political corruption in the assessor's office. Dist. Atty. Cooley said Noguez reduced property taxes in exchange for campaign contributions. Noguez allegedly accepted $185,000 in bribes from Salari between February 2010 and September 2010.
Noguez’s attorney, Michael Proctor, said his client was not given a chance to explain his side of the story.
He accused Cooley's office of conducting a "one-sided, result-driven investigation aimed at 'getting' Mr. Noguez," rather than a search for the truth.
Antonovich said that he wants to conduct a nationwide search for a replacement if Noguez does step down and that Santos Kreimann, who is currently the active head of the assessor’s office, should be a candidate if he wants to apply. (Noguez took a voluntary paid leave of absence in June).
Kreimann “is there to restore order and credibility to the department and he’s done that superbly,” Antonovich said.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stopped short of calling for Noguez’s departure, but said he doubted Noguez has a political future.
"I’ve always been reluctant to jump the gun with respect to the fate of anyone who has been accused of wrongdoing but not convicted. However, I will say that I think he’s been substantially harmed and that repairing the damage, in terms of holding public office, is unlikely,” Ridley-Thomas said.
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.
Salari made three loans to Noguez during 2010 -- one for $80,000 and two for $50,000, according to the charging documents. (Investigators are also calling a $5,000 campaign contribution a bribe.) A review of the bank records demonstrates "sudden repayments" began shortly after reporters from the Los Angeles Times began making inquiries regarding allegations of misconduct at the assessor's office, according to the declaration of a D.A. investigator.
Officials at the assessor's office said they would remain focused as the criminal justice system takes its course.
In an email to office employees, Kreimann said, "While we are disheartened to hear of the charges, we know that it does not reflect the work of all Office of the Assessor employees."
"Today I stand by my statement that the good men and women of the Office of the Assessor are extremely bright, talented and dedicated public service professionals that deserve special recognition for their outstanding efforts in working to restore the public trust in our operations," he wrote in the email.
-- Jason Song