John Noguez, the Los Angeles County assessor, was arrested this morning on corruption charges, along with his deputy, Mark McNeil, and controversial tax agent Ramin Salari.
Noguez was taken into custody at his home in Huntington Park. He and his co-defendants face 31 counts related to a wide ranging pay-to-play scandal. Bail has been set at $1.3 million apiece for Noguez and Salari and $1.1 million for McNeil.
Salari was arrested at his home in Encino; McNeil at his home in West L.A. Noguez said nothing as he was led in handcuffs from his house to a waiting patrol car.
Noguez, who has been on a leave of absence since the summer, was at the center of a wide-ranging corruption probe, detailed in the Weekly's April 19 cover story, “Let's Make a Deal.“
A grand jury has been investigating allegations that Noguez directed his staff to lower property values in an effort to obtain campaign donations. The probe was triggered by allegations from a former employee, and friend, of Noguez's, Scott Schenter.
Per the story:
Schenter's allegations set off a firestorm that has both the media and the district attorney's investigators circling the assessor's office. Some have speculated that Schenter was angling for kickbacks. But L.A. Weekly's investigation indicates that his true motivation was likely politics. According to a source familiar with Schenter's account, he slashed [property tax] roll values by more than $100 million in hopes that the beneficiaries would contribute to Noguez's campaign for assessor. Noguez directed him to do it, Schenter has alleged, and he went along with it because he wanted a promotion.
Records show that some beneficiaries of Schenter's actions did, in fact, donate to Noguez's campaign. And the Weekly has learned that the chief beneficiary of Schenter's reductions, a tax agent named Ramin Salari, helped Noguez get his start in politics with a $15,000 donation.
Over his long career in the assessor's office, Noguez received political contributions from many property owners whose buildings he personally appraised. And politics continued to play a significant role in the office after Noguez was sworn into the top job. Appraisers complained about the access given to tax agents, including Salari.
In fact, Salari continued to get his way. In one memo, a Noguez deputy explained why: Salari was a “known donor.”
More from the story:
In the fall of 2010, as the campaign chest dwindled, Noguez called Schenter twice and told him to take care of two tax agents, according to the source. The idea was that if the agents received tax breaks, they might return the generosity with a campaign check, and encourage their clients to do likewise.
One of those agents was Ramin Salari, who handed Schenter a list of parcels he wanted reduced. Schenter accommodated him, as well as three other tax agents. According to a Weekly analysis, those four agents account for the bulk of the more than 150 parcels Schenter lowered.
We'll have more on this story as it develops.