Photo by John Noguez via Flickr Creative Commons
Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez
UPDATE 11:48 a.m.: John Noguez, 47, is charged with 24 felonies, including 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer, five counts of perjury, four counts of accepting bribes and two counts of conspiracy. His alleged fraud and embezzlement exceeds $500,000, according to the District Attorney’s Office. He is being held on $1.385 million bail.
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles County," said District Attorney Steve Cooley. "I’ve [worked] in this office for nearly four decades. This particular case, from what I know about it, strikes me as the largest and most significant public corruption case in terms of county government during that time frame.”
Noguez, who has been on leave from his office since June, was arrested Wednesday morning at his home in Huntington Park. (The L.A. Times has posted a video of Noguez leaving his home in handcuffs.) Investigators said Noguez had no reaction to the arrest. If convicted on all counts, he could face 30 years in state prison.
“Based on the scale and duration [of the crimes] — a lot of chutzpah,” Cooley said.
An attorney for Noguez said it was “unfortunate” that charges were filed before investigators interviewed the assessor.
“During the past few months, John Noguez has been given assurances by the District Attorney's Office that he would have the opportunity to tell his side of this controversy before any final charging decision was made,” said Michael J. Proctor.
“By arresting Mr. Noguez today, before honoring that commitment, the District Attorney’s Office is communicating that this was not in fact a search for truth, but a one-sided, result-driven investigation aimed at 'getting' Mr. Noguez," Proctor added.
Also arrested were Ramin Salarai, a 49-year-old tax consultant and campaign contributor to Noguez, and Mark McNeil, who headed the Major Appraisal Division in the assessor's office.
Salari is charged with 23 felonies, including bribing an executive officer, conspiracy and misappropriation. In addition to bribes he allegedly paid to Noguez, Salari is accused of giving $100,000 in bribes to former appraiser Scott Schenter. Schenter was arrested earlier this year for allegedly reducing assessments on properties in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and the Pacific Palisades.
McNeil, 54, is being held on $1.16 million bail for 14 felonies.
Noguez is accused of accepting $185,000 in bribes from Salari between February and September 2010. He also received a list of properties represented by Salari. It was then that McNeil reduced the assessed value on properties in Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, Torrance and West Los Angeles. Included on that list was the Old Spaghetti Factory on Sunset Boulevard.
Los Angeles County lost an estimated $1.16 million in revenue based on these crimes. The district attorney said this is the first wave of charges and that the investigation is ongoing.
Noguez was elected County Assessor in November, 2010. Prior to that, he spent 27 years with the assessor's office. Most of that time was spent in the Major Properties Division where he assessed properties in the historic core of downtown L.A. In 2009, then-Assessor Rick Auerbach appointed Noguez to the position of special assistant.
Noguez's political career began in 2002 in Huntington Park. He was the city clerk, then a councilman and mayor. He left Huntington Park city government in 2010.
It was also revealed Wednesday that Noguez's real name is Juan Renaldo Rodriguez.
"Our sense is that John Noguez is not a legal name," Cooley said. "It may be a name that he used. It is not necessarily a crime to use a different name. It depends on the circumstances."
Proctor said Noguez is the maiden name of the assessor's mother, who raised him.
Read the complete complaint below:
UPDATE 10:40 a.m.: Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, aka Juan Rodriguez, is accused of taking about $185,000 in bribes. The county estimates it lost more than $1.1 million in tax revenue due to the alleged scheme, according to District Attorney Steve Cooley.
He accused Noguez of lining his pockets with cash in exchange for tax breaks.
"Residents must have confidence their government is not for sale," Cooley said.
There is a motion to freeze all of the assets within control of the three defendants: Noguez; Mark McNeil – a close assessor's office associate of Noguez; and Ramin Salari – a property tax consultant who contributed to Noguez's campaigns.
PREVIOUSLY: Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez was arrested Wednesday morning, according to the District Attorney’s Office, which had been looking into allegations that property tax assessments were improperly lowered for campaign contributors.
The assessor took a leave of office in June. According to the Los Angeles Times, Noguez will face charges of bribery and corruption. Mark McNeil, a close assessor's office associate of Noguez, was reportedly also arrested, as was Ramin Salari, a property tax consultant who contributed to Noguez's campaigns.
District Attorney Steve Cooley is expected to discuss the arrests at a news conference this morning.
Throughout the corruption probe, Noguez has maintained he did nothing wrong. At the time he left office, Noguez’s attorney, Michael J. Proctor, told KPCC: “He cares deeply about the office, and the climate has become such that he felt it was best for the professionalism of the office to allow somebody else, on a temporary basis, to manage the office.”
Earlier this year, both the district attorney and county Supervisor Michael Antonovich had encouraged Noguez to leave office. That came after former county appraiser Scott Schenter was charged with 60 felony counts related to allegations he lowered assessed values by $172 milion. Schenter has pleaded not guilty.