Scott Schenter, the former appraiser at the center of the corruption probe into Assessor John Noguez, pleaded not guilty this afternoon to 60 counts of falsifying department documents.
After the plea hearing, district attorney investigators returned to the courtroom to ask that Schenter be placed in “special housing.” Judge Upinder Kalra approved the request.
The D.A.'s office makes such arrangements for public officials and for those whose safety might be threatened in custody, said D.A. spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. In the past, the D.A.'s office has also obtained special jail accommodations for potential witnesses.
Schenter is the first person to be arrested in the D.A.'s wide-ranging “pay-to-play” probe of the assessor's office.
As the L.A. Weekly has reported, Schenter is accused of lowering assessed values for more than 150 property owners, in hopes of spurring them to contribute to Noguez's campaign. Schenter has alleged that Noguez told him to “take care of” two tax agents — Ramin Salari and Pat Younis — who represented many of the affected properties. Noguez has denied wrongdoing.
Schenter was arrested on Monday in Hillsboro, Oregon. He is being held on $1.5 million bail, and could face 33 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
However, his chief value to the D.A.'s office may be as a witness against Noguez. D.A. Steve Cooley has already called on Noguez to resign, which suggests he intends to bring charges against the assessor at some point. He may have difficulty doing so without Schenter's cooperation.
After the hearing, prosecutor Susan Schwartz said the investigation is continuing.
“No one's exempt,” she said. “It will be a thorough investigation…. There was a breach of the people's trust. Our hope is we can restore people's faith in the integrity of the assessor's office.”
Schenter is next scheduled to appear in court on June 5. His public defender, Mearl Lottman, said he planned to argue that Schenter's bail should be reduced. A preliminary hearing is set for June 8.
At the hearing, Schenter turned his back to avoid being photographed by news media. He spoke only briefly, when Judge Kalra asked if he agreed to be transported to a special housing facility by D.A. investigators.
“Yes,” he said.