By Karen Ocamb
(L.A. County Assessor John Noguez in an undated photo)
Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez was arrested Wednesday, as were his friend Ramin Salari, a prominent property tax consultant, and Mark McNeil, a top executive in the assessor’s office. The 24 felony charges include conspiracy and misappropriation of public funds. At a news conference, L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley said that Noguez is accused of accepting bribes from Salari to illegally reduce the property values for some of Salari’s rich clients, resulting in them paying less in taxes. County prosecutors said the alleged scam cost the county at least $1.16 million in tax revenue. Noguez faces up to 30 years and four months in state prison if convicted of all the charges.
The L.A. Times, which has been investigating corruption charges against Noguez for a long time, reports:
Cooley described the case as the most significant public corruption scandal involving a county official in decades.
“Honest taxpayers and the public at large, it seems, were to be damned,” Cooley said. “Residents must have confidence that their government is not for sale to the highest bidder or the highest briber.”…
Cooley declined to say whether Salari’s clients knew about the bribery scheme, saying the investigation is ongoing. His office is also looking into whether some donors were illegally reimbursed for contributions to Noguez’s 2010 campaign.
Noguez held several elected positions in Huntington Park—including serving as the city’s mayor—before being elected county assessor. KCBS News reports on two local reform activists who say Noguez spent “years” of alleged corruption in the city, a charge with which another activist, a former city councilmember, told KABC News she concurs, having spent nine years investigating Noguez after a political clash.
BUT the Times also reported:
All three men have steadfastly denied any wrongdoing throughout the course of the investigation.
Noguez’s attorney, Michael Proctor, said prosecutors had reneged on a promise that Noguez would get a chance to explain his side of the story before they moved forward.
“By arresting Mr. Noguez today,” Proctor wrote in an email to The Times, “the District Attorney’s Office is communicating that this was not in fact a search for truth, but a one-sided, result-driven investigation aimed at ‘getting’ Mr. Noguez.”
And herein lies the rub, to paraphrase Shakespeare. There are respected LGBT advocates who have known Noguez for years who think he is a “good man” and not the kind of person who would be corrupt or deceptive. They say this is a very complicated situation involving how property is assessed and taxed and Cooley and his prosecutors have fed the L.A. Times their spin on the facts to make it appear that Noguez is corrupt for the express purpose of enhancing out-going DA Steve Cooley’s legacy. Notice, for instance, that the Times was exclusively present for the arrest at Noguez’s house at 8:20 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, the people who question the legitimacy of these charges are too afraid to speak on the record out of fear that Cooley might launch a manufactured witch hunt against them.
Legitimate, manufactured witch hunt or not—Noguez and the two others stand accused of very serious crimes—including alleged breaches of public and personal trust—and will be prosecuted with the full force of county government and law enforcement with the media apparently behind them. Unless his attorney or a respected friend clearly spells out his side of the story, it looks like Noguez may well be convicted in the press long before he steps foot in a courtroom.