Property Taxes Allegedly Reduced for Campaign Contributors

Posted: Feb 14, 2012 11:30 AM


Reporter Randy Economy reveals the existence of criminal allegations against LA County Assessor John Noguez to reduce the commercial property taxes of clients of longtime campaign contributor Encino businessman Ramin Salari. 

Assessor Noguez, who lacks a college degree, was elected in 2010 to manage the $1 Trillion LA Assessors office with strong political backing and support of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Assembly member Gil Cedillo.  Villaraigosa and Cedillo supported Noguez even when confronted with facts about Noguez connections to one of the City of Bell’s indicted officials, ex Bell Councilman George Cole and other felons Noguez associates with.  Cole is presently under criminal indictment for his activities in the now famous City of Bell scandal.  Cole claims to be innocent.   Noguez was also the part time mayor of the the small City of Huntington Park which is adjacent to Bell.  Noguez strongly supported George Coles Steelworkers Old Timers Association with contracts from Huntington Park.  Coles political activities have now become legendary in Southeast Los Angeles.

Noguez is associated with many other colorful characters in Southeast Los Angeles.  A catalog of these associations has been kept by a secret activist who goes by the name “The Editor of Watch Our City.”  A link to articles of Noguez’s association with felons and colorful folks can be found at this link.  “The Editor” also highlights additional rumors of payback for Noguez political contributors in story’s on his website.

Below is Randy Economy’s unedited article, reprinted with permission.  The LA Times is digging into this as well I can confirm.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has opened up a formal inquiry into the activities of Assessor John R. Noguez, Los Cerritos Community News has learned exclusively.

Noguez, who was elected in November of 2010 is the subject of a probe that was launched on November 18, 2011, LCCN can confirm.  In an interview with David Demerjian, Senior District Attorney with the Office of Public Integrity on Monday, a complaint was filed late last year and that “an inquiry has been commenced.”  LCCN (Los Cerritos Community News) has also been told by four senior members who work at the highest levels for Noguez that that the focus of the probe revolves around the relationship between Noguez and Encino businessman Ramin Salari.

Salari is the owner of Assessment Appeals Services, LLP. According to their company website, Salari touts his company’s ability to help “over 6,000 property tax reassessments with a high success rate.”  Noguez spokesman Louis Reyes said that “they have not received anything whatsoever from the District Attorney’s Office.”  “You are asking us to comment on something we don’t have any knowledge about,” Reyes said. On Wednesday, Reyes called LCCN and said that Noguez had been told by Demerjian that “the Assessor was not the subject of the inquiry.”

On Thursday at 9 a.m. after the story broke on both the LCCN website and confirmed in the Los Angeles Times by Pulitzer Prize winner journalist Ruben Vives, Demerjian called LCCN Publisher Brian Hews and Reporter Randy Economy and denied ever having a “conversation with the Assessor” about the probe. Further Demerjian said that he has only met Noguez on a “couple of occasions” at social events. “I have never spoken to the man,” Demerjian said.

LCCN has been told that the investigation centers on the influence that Salari has been able to “leverage” on behalf of his private clientele with his longtime political ally Noguez. Salari has helped bankroll campaigns for Noguez going back to his days as an elected member of the Huntington Park City Council. LCCN has also been told that Salari has personally attended “numerous” meetings with at least three “senior level” members of Noguez inner circle to “assert pressure” on professional county appraisers to directly “devalue” assessed property rates on behalf Salari clients at Assessment Appeal’s Services, LLP. 

Several sources inside the Assessor’s office tell LCCN that Noguez staff members Andrew Stevens, Assistant Assessor Eric Haagenson and Chief Appraiser to Major Real Properties Mark McNeil have been with Salari in “heated” meetings with lower level appraisers in order to have commercial properties “devalued” at the “direction of Noguez.” The meetings took place in the Assessor’s North County Offices located in Encino and in West Los Angeles.  In one of those meetings, LCCN has been told that Stevens berated a lower level appraiser in a “heated confrontation” and directed the staff member to “do as he was told” with Salari’s “standing right next to him in the meeting.”  One high ranking assessor who has worked for the county for more than three decades, who spoke on condition of anonymity said that as many as 171 properties are involved in the probe, with more than “one billion dollars” in property devaluations involved. “This is Bell on steroids,” the source told LCCN.  “This is a classic case of interference of government officials to reduce the valuation of someone’s property that has direct political ties to an elected assessor,” said one senior ranking county appraiser.

Noguez has been with the Assessor’s office for the past 25 years, and was elected to the top position in 2010. He is responsible for locating all taxable property in the sprawling county and to identify who the true legal owners are of each property.  Salari is considered to be a key part of Noguez inner political circle dating back to his days when the first term Assessor served as an elected member of the Huntington Park City Council. Salari has been a major contributor to past Noguez political efforts.  In 2003 Salari donated more than $15,000 in printing to Noguez and two other allies during a HP City Council campaign, according to records obtained by LCCN.   --Randy Economy, Reporter (Copyright. Los Cerritos Community News. Hews Media Group. 2012)

This post was written by Gwilym McGrew.