Photo by John Noguez via Flickr Creative Commons
Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez.
District Attorney Steve Cooley is readying grand jury indictments for the criminal probe into Assessor John Noguez's office, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The investigation centers around Noguez who may have received bribes in exchange for making cheap property tax assessments for campaign contributors.
"We of course are not talking a lot about what we found because the search warrants were executed a couple of weeks ago and they are still under seal," Cooley said during today's AirTalk with Larry Mantle show. "The items that were seized are being forensically and otherwise evaluated, but we are proceeding toward the potential for criminal filings, which may come by way of filing a criminal complaint or by seeking grand jury indictments."
Cooley also said that multiple indictments are likely. He chided the union for assessor's office staff for advising employees not to cooperate with investigators unless they receive an okay from their employer.
"They're telling potential witnesses that, until they permission from the No. 1 target, they can't talk," Cooley told the Times. He was referring to an internal memo issued by the California Association of Professional Employees.
Cooley has a copy that advises staff to "refuse to answer any questions, or provide any information or documents to a district attorney's representative without a written order by the assessor's office to comply." D.A. Cooley said the author of the memo will probably be the first summoned to testify to a grand jury. A lawyer for the union defends its position.
Reporter Jack Dolan of the L.A. Times has been covering on this story, and told AirTalk that through interviews with employees at the assessor's office, it became clear that there may be an issue.
"John Noguez's administration didn't invent this notion of lowering property values for campaign contributors it's just that it rose to what employees said seemed like an entirely new level after Noguez's election… The process that the appraisers are complaining about is their work, their assessment gets ignored and a top official from the Noguez administration, in the mind of the appraisers, will come to an arbitrary number that is much lower. The tax bill is calculated off that lower number. These are allegations, but these are allegations that we've heard repeatedly by numerous employees," he said.
Dolan says that Noguez has not spoken to the Times for a couple of months, but that his reps have insisted that nothing improper was done and that these lowered assessments were justifiable and legal. However, he says, there was one significant exception.
"There was one allegedly rogue employee who just apparently on his own with no documentation, no authorization and no real explanation, lowered the assessed values for about 125 property owners on the west side, we're talking Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades. When we finally interviewed him, we interviewed him numerous times and he finally went on the record, he said he did otto try and drum up campaign contributions of John Noguez," he said.
Cooley says the investigation has moved beyond its initial stage and within a "short time frame" there will be charges coming forth against Noguez and his administration.
Who else could be swept up in the criminal probe? Are staff members concealing information? Will property taxes allegedly lost in the scandal ever be recouped?
Steve Cooley, Los Angeles County District Attorney
Jack Dolan, Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times