DA: LA County official illegally lowered property values by $172 million in return for contributions

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The wide-ranging investigation into Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez took another turn Monday with the arrest of a former appraiser from his office.

Prosecutors accuse Scott Schenter of “slashing values” by $172 million on dozens of properties to persuade owners to make campaign contributions to Noguez. Lower assessed property values result in lower taxes for owners of homes and businesses.

"The magnitude of Schenter's suspected betrayal of public trust is almost inconceivable," L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley said. "We believe his actions are not isolated."

Cooley recently said he intends to seek grand jury indictments. His prosecutors have served search warrants on the assessor's home and office.

Noguez remains under investigation by the D.A.’s Public Integrity Division in connection with allegations that he and his staff reduced property values for wealthy clients of tax consultant Ramin Salari, who’d also contributed to Noguez’ campaign.

Noguez has denied those allegations. Monday, he used his official website to respond to an L.A. Times article that raised questions about the assessed value of a house bought by real estate executive Jordan Kaplan. The paper said Kaplan, a Noguez political contributor, reportedly saved nearly $200,000 in taxes when the office delayed updating the value.

"Assessor John Noguez was not aware of the pending case to value Kaplan's home," the statement said. "The assessor is far removed from the appraisal process of any particular property."

Prosecutors charged Schenter with 60 felony counts. In counts 1 through 30, they said the assessor's office issued refund checks. In counts 31 through 60, the office reversed the devaluations before refunds were issued, according to prosecutors.

Schenter, 49, resigned last year. He was arrested in Oregon.

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