- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, a top aide and a campaign contributor were arrested Wednesday as part of an investigation into influence peddling and the slashing of property taxes for political allies.

District Attorney Steve Cooley called it the most significant case of public corruption he has seen in his four decades in the district attorney’s office.

“Instead of acting in the best interest of the citizens of Los Angeles County, he turned his back on them,” Mr. Cooley said.

Mr. Noguez was arrested along with his chief appraiser, Mark McNeil, and Arizona tax consultant Ramin Salari after being accused of conspiring to slash property values and save millions in property taxes for clients of Mr. Salari, a campaign contributor to Mr. Noquez.


At a news conference, Mr. Cooley declined to comment on whether owners of the properties, primarily located on the west side of Los Angeles, knew of the conspiracy. However, he said the investigation is ongoing and there could be further arrests.

Charges against Mr. Noguez include conspiracy, bribery and corruption. The others were charged with conspiracy and misappropriation of public funds. They were arrested at their homes.

Asked about Mr. Noguez’s motive, Mr. Cooley said, “Greed.”

Defense attorney Michael J. Proctor said Mr. Noguez had been assured he would be able to give his side of the story before any charges were filed. He said Mr. Cooley was engaged in a one-sided investigation aimed at “getting” Mr.  Noguez.

Mr. Proctor added that Mr. Noguez has a history of professionalism and cares deeply about the job and the people at the assessor’s office.

Mr. Cooley said his office would talk to Mr. Noguez if he waived his Miranda rights.

Bail was set for each man at $1.36 million — the estimated amount the county lost because of their alleged misdeeds. They were expected to be arraigned later in the week.

The complaint alleged that Mr. Noguez accepted $185,000 in bribes from Mr. Salari between February and September 2010.

Mr. Noguez was a longtime county appraiser before being elected to the top job in 2010. Mr. Cooley said the investigation uncovered that Mr. Noguez’s real name is Juan Renaldo Rodriguez.

Investigators looked into improper tax breaks granted to more than 100 wealthy property owners since Mr. Noguez’s election.

Assessor’s office employees complained they were pressured to lower property taxes for clients of prominent Noguez campaign contributors, authorities said.