BEVERLY HILLS—Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez and Arizona tax consultant Ramin Salari were charged with a dozen more felonies on Tuesday, October 28 in the ongoing investigation into their massive public corruption scandal.
Noguez, 48, and Salari, 50, were each arraigned with six new counts of embezzlement and grand theft during their court appearance on Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Noguez and Salari pleaded not guilty to all 12 counts. Salari also plead not guilty to three tax evasion felonies filed against him later that day in a separate case by prosecutors of the Public Integrity Division.
The case began in October 2012, when County Assessor John Noguez, his chief appraiser Mark McNeil and Arizona tax consultant Ramin Salari were arrested for illegally conspiring to lower tax assessments of Los Angelesproperties belonging to clients of Salari. The investigation, led by the District Attorney’s Office, alleges that Noguez accepted thousands of dollars in bribes from Salari in exchange of lowering the appraised value of his clients’ private and commercial properties located in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Pasadena, Marina Del Rey and the South Bay. Noguez, who was elected County Assessorin November 2010, also reportedly received generous campaign contributions from Ramin Salari.
Steve Cooley, the District Attorney at the time, said this was the most significant case of public corruption he had seen in his four decades in the district attorney’s office and that Noguez’s actions were motivated by greed. The defendants, however, have maintained their innocence and have pleaded not guilty to all 85 felony counts.
Jane Robison, spokeswoman of the District Attorney’s Office, told the Canyon News the ongoing investigation has added counts multiple times as new evidence arises, but would not comment if owners of these properties would be charged too in the future. The most recent charges extend the list of properties to include three commercial buildings located on South Broadway near 6th Street in downtown Los Angeles, according to court documents.
The new allegations also reveal the scheme between Noguez and Salari may date as far back as March 1996 when Noguez was an appraiser specialist of major properties for the L.A. County Assessor’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office now estimates the corruption scheme cost the county over $10 million in revenue.
Court documents show County Assessor Noguez has a total of 36 felony counts filed against him, including 19 counts of misappropriation of public funds, five counts of perjury by declaration, five counts of accepting a bribe, two counts of conspiracy, three counts of embezzlements and three counts of grand theft. Robison stated McNeil has 23 felony counts and Salari with almost 70 counts. The three are expected to return to court on January 30, 2014 to schedule their preliminary hearing.
On June 1, 2012, Noguez took a voluntary leave of absence from his office position amidst the district attorney’s investigations. Santos H. Kreimann was appointed to fill the spot, stating in a press release by the Assessor’s Office on June 19, 2012, “I am eager to dedicate my full attention to reviewing and improving policies and procedures necessary to restore the public’s confidence in the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office. My goal is to re-establish the department as the premier property assessment agency in the nation.”
Noguez did not resign as the official elected County Assessor, and therefore continues to receive his annual $201,392 salary from the county, according to public records. He can only be removed from his position if he is convicted of a crime or if a new assessor is selected in the November 2014 elections.
If convicted, Noguez could face over 50 years in prison and Salari could face over 75 years.