Updated with booking photo and further detail of the arrest. Update 2: Councilmen Dennis Zine and Paul Krekorian call for “independent assessment” of properties reduced under Noguez.
Scott Schenter, a former appraiser, was arrested this morning and charged with 60 felony counts in connection with a growing corruption investigation at the L.A. County Assessor's Office.
Schenter is accused of wrongfully lowering property values by $172 million. He has said he did so at the direction of Assessor John Noguez, who is also a target of the district attorney's probe.
Schenter was arrested at an apartment in Hillsboro, Oregon, at about 11:30 a.m., and held on $1.5 million bail.
“He had a defeated look to himself when we saw him coming out of the apartment,” said Eric Wahlstrom, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service.
The Portland Police Department, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department, the Washington County Sheriff's Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service teamed up to make the arrest. Wahlstrom said that Oregon law enforcement agents tracked him to an address on Northwest Cornell Road in Hillsboro, after receiving information on his whereabouts from their counterparts in Southern California.
Schenter was arrested without incident. Wahlstrom said that Schenter would likely face an extradition hearing on Tuesday.
The L.A. Weekly was the first to report Schenter's account of the alleged crime, in a cover story last month. The Weekly reported that Schenter felt pressured to help generate contributions to Noguez's campaign, and hoped that doing so would get him promoted. He maintained that Noguez directed him to “take care of” a couple tax agents who had contributed to the campaign — Ramin Salari and Pat Younis — in hopes that they could drum up more contributions.
Schenter lowered values on more than 150 properties, most of which were represented by Salari, Younis and two other tax agents: Joe Farzam and Jeff Lloyd. Some of the recipients in turn gave donations to Noguez's assessor's campaign and to his Huntington Park city council account.
Schenter's activities were discovered in January 2011, by his supervisor, Owen Harris. When he was questioned, Schenter told his supervisors that Noguez had directed him to “look into” the properties. Schenter resigned before he could be fired.
In April 2011, the assessor's office referred the case to the L.A. County district attorney's office.
“We've done our investigation,” said assessor's spokesman Louis Reyes, on Monday. “We referred it a year ago.”
The D.A.'s office alleges that refund checks were wrongfully sent to some property owners.
“People did receive refunds,” said David Demerjian, the head of the district attorney's public integrity unit. “As to at least some of the properties, there is a loss.”
The assessor's office has said that Schenter's behavior was discovered, and the reductions were corrected, before any checks were issued.
Demerjian said that D.A. investigators have not spoken with Schenter. They based their investigation on documents and on interviews with other witnesses.
Schenter lives in Santa Monica, but was in Oregon to be near his parents, Demerjian said.
In November, the D.A.'s office got a complaint that Noguez was doing favors for Salari. Noguez and Salari are also under investigation. The D.A.'s office searched their homes last month.
“The case against (Schenter) is a separate investigation,” Demerjian said. “A lot of the properties involved are part of our larger investigation.”
Update, 6 p.m.: This story is starting to get people's attention. L.A. Councilmen Dennis Zine and Paul Krekorian are calling for an “independent assessment” of properties that were given “significant reductions” in value during Noguez's tenure.
That may be a bigger job than they realize, but it shows that after a couple months of watching this unfold from the sidelines, elected officials are swinging into action.
Update, Tuesday: Schenter has waived extradition, and is awaiting transportation to L.A., where he will make his first court appearance.
Also today, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors delayed consideration of an ordinance that would classify tax agents as lobbyists. The sponsor, Supervisor Don Knabe, said in an interview that he expects the measure has the votes to pass, but that it may need some tweaking from the county counsel's office. It will be on the agenda again in two weeks.
“I don't think there should be a problem getting it done,” Knabe said.
Knabe also stopped just short of calling on Noguez to resign, saying only, “If any of those allegations are true, he should resign.”
First posted at 1:02 p.m.
Scott Schenter Complaint