By Jack Dolan, Ruben Vives and Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
October 17, 2012, 6:07 p.m.
About six months before John Noguez was elected Los Angeles County assessor, he received an $80,000 check from his old friend and prominent property tax consultant, Ramin Salari. Over the next few months, Salari cut Noguez two more checks, for a total of $180,000.
In return, authorities say, assessor officials began giving tax breaks to many of Salari’s clients.
Prosecutors on Wednesday alleged that the payments to Noguez — and an additional $100,000 given to a lower-level assessor’s official — were bribes to illegally reduce the values of properties so that Salari’s clients would pay less in taxes. The alleged scam deprived the county of at least $1.16 million in tax revenue, according to prosecutors.
FULL COVERAGE: Corruption probe inside assessor’s office
Noguez, Salari and a top executive in the assessor’s office, Mark McNeil, were arrested and charged with conspiracy and misappropriation of public funds following a yearlong influence peddling investigation that has roiled the office responsible for determining property taxes on more than 2 million homes and businesses.
In addition, Noguez and Salari are charged with bribery and Noguez is charged with perjury.
Prosecutors began probing the case last year. In April, investigators served a search warrant at Noguez’s Huntington Park home and found what they characterized as a list from Salari of 18 properties whose values he wanted reduced. The assessor’s office made good on nearly all of Salari’s requests, prosecutors said.
Noguez and Salari described the alleged bribes as loans, according to prosecutors, who noted that Noguez only tried to pay back some of the money earlier this year “shortly after reporters from the Los Angeles Times began making inquiries regarding allegations of misconduct at the Assessor’s Office.” Prosecutors also described a $5,000 campaign contribution in February 2010 from Salari to Noguez as another bribe.
The knock on Noguez’s door came from Los Angeles County district attorney’s investigators about 8:20 a.m. Noguez, 47, was led away in handcuffs for booking at the county jail. Salari, 49, was arrested at a house in Encino, and McNeil, 54, was taken into custody at his West Los Angeles home. Each is being held on more than $1-million bail.
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley described the case as the most significant public corruption scandal involving a county official in decades.
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