Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez and a tax consultant who allegedly bribed the elected official each pleaded not guilty Thursday to public corruption charges.
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, Noguez made his first court appearance since being arrested Wednesday at his Huntington Park home. He is facing 24 felony counts, which include bribery, perjury, conspiracy and the misappropriation of public funds. During the District Attorney’s year-long investigation, Noguez has maintained he did nothing wrong.
Also in court was Ramin Salari, who allegedly bribed Noguez with $185,000 in exchange for lowering the assessed values of properties owned by his clients. Salari is charged with 23 felonies — bribing an executive officer, conspiracy and misappropriation. He is also accused of giving former appraiser Scott Schenter $100,000 in bribes.
The alleged crimes translated to a $1.16 million loss for Los Angeles County.
Attorneys for the two men argued that their bail amounts should be lowered. Noguez is being held on $1.385 million. His attorney said he does not have the means to pay that amount and urged the court to lower the bail to $100,000.
“Mr. Noguez is strong, he’s optimistic,” said Michael J. Proctor, an attorney for the assessor. “All we’re asking for is a reasonable bail. Nothing special, just a reasonable bail like anyone deserves in our system.”
Attorney Mark Werksman asked that Salari’s bail be reduced from $1.36 million to $575,000. Each man was required to surrender their passports.
Judge Shelly Torrealba is expected to decide on the bail requests at a hearing set for Monday afternoon. At that time, there will also be motions on how the bails can be paid. Prosecutors want to freeze the men’s assets to prevent them from using illegally-obtained funds.
If the alleged crimes prove to be true, they represent “an extreme abuse of public trust,” Torrealba said.
A third defendant, Mark McNeil — who headed the assessor's Major Appraisal Division — is facing 13 felony counts of misappropriation by a public officer and one count of conspiracy. He is free on $1.16 million bail.
The D.A.'s office has said the investigation is continuing.