District Attorney Steve Cooley announced Wednesday the arrest of Assessor John Noguez, his chief appraiser and Arizona tax consultant Ramin Salari on charges they engaged in an elaborate and complex conspiracy to slash property values and save millions in property taxes to help Salari’s clients.
Cooley said the arrests and charges are part of a continuing investigation into public corruption at the Assessor’s Office. Noguez, who announced he would take a leave of absence in June, returned to work briefly before going out on an indefinite medical leave.
“Los Angeles County voters and taxpayers deserve honest, hardworking elected and appointed officials who will serve the best interests of the people,” Dist. Atty. Cooley said during a press conference Wednesday. “Residents must have confidence that their government is not for sale to the highest bidder or the highest briber.”
Noguez, whose real name is Juan Renaldo Rodriguez, was arrested at his Huntington Park home by District Attorney’s investigators with the Bureau of Investigation. The 47-year-old is being held on $1.385 million bail.
Ramin Salari, a tax consultant and campaign contributor to Noguez, was arrested at a residence in Encino by D.A. investigators. The 49-year-old is being held on $1.36 million bail.
Mark McNeil, a principal assessor promoted by Noguez to head the Major Appraisal Division, was arrested at his home in West Los Angeles by D.A. investigators. The 54-year-old is being held on $1.16 million bail.
The complaint’s overt acts allege that Noguez accepted $185,000 in bribes from Salari between February and September, 2010. Noguez also received a list of properties represented by Salari.
Soon after receiving the checks and the list, Noguez’ chief appraiser – Mark McNeil — appeared at hearings and reduced the assessed value on numerous properties, including the Old Spaghetti Factory, and properties in Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, Torrance and Los Angeles.
The complaint also alleges Noguez also told appraiser Scott Schenter to “take care of our buddy Ramin,” and, “We have to take care of our donors.” Schenter was charged previously in a separate complaint.
Noguez is charged with 24 felony counts, including four counts of accepting bribes; five counts of perjury, two counts of conspiracy; and 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer. The complaint alleges the fraud and embezzlement exceeds $500,000.
Salari is charged with 23 felony counts, including eight count of bribing an executive officer; two counts of conspiracy; and 13 counts of misappropriation. In addition to allegedly bribing Noguez, Salari is charged with four counts of paying appraiser Scott Schenter $100,000 in bribes.
McNeil is charged with 14 felony counts, including one count of conspiracy and 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer.
Schenter, who worked from 1988 to early 2011 as a county appraiser, was charged in a separate complaint with allegedly slashing values on multi-million dollar homes, condos and businesses in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. He allegedly secured campaign contributions from the owners of those homes and business for Noguez.
Deputy District Attorneys Susan Schwartz and Michele Gilmer are prosecuting the case.
If convicted as charged, Noguez faces up to 30 years, four months in state prison; Salari faces up to 29 years, four months in state prison; and McNeil faces up to 20 years, eight months in state prison.