Assessor John Noguez, tax advisor plead not guilty to bribes
Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez and the tax consultant accused of bribing him, Ramin Salari, pleaded not guilty to a long list of corruption charges Thursday.
The men, who were arrested Wednesday, are being held on more than $1-million bail each. They are scheduled to be in court again Monday to argue for lower bail and to prove that any money they use to pay it was not acquired through criminal means.
Prosecutors allege that Noguez took $185,000 in bribes to illegally reduce the values of properties represented by Salari so their owners would pay lower taxes. Salari charges his clients a percentage of their tax savings, typically 50%.
Salari is also charged with paying $100,000 in bribes to a lower-level assessor’s office employee, Scott Schenter, to illegally reduce property values. Schenter pleaded not guilty to fraud charges in May.
In total, the alleged scam deprived the county of at least $1.16 million in tax revenue, prosecutors say.
On Thursday, Salari’s attorney, Mark Werksman, asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba to reduce Salari’s bail from $1.36 million to $575,000. Although Salari lives for much of the year in Phoenix, he has deep family and business connections to Los Angeles and is not a flight risk, Werksman said.
Further, Werksman said, the alleged crime had “no victims, so to speak, except for the tax collection efforts of the county.”
“No, just every taxpayer in the county of Los Angeles,” Torrealba shot back. She called the alleged crimes “an extreme abuse of public trust.”
Noguez’s attorney, Michael Proctor, said his client’s $1.385-million bail is excessive and probably beyond Noguez’s ability to pay. He asked for a reduction to $100,000.
Noguez has known for about a year that he was the target of a highly publicized corruption investigation, Proctor noted. He didn’t flee, or go into hiding, Proctor said. Instead, he took a leave from the assessor’s office in June so nobody could accuse him of interfering with the investigation, Proctor said.
Noguez has drawn his roughly $197,000 county salary while on leave, and will continue to receive it unless he resigns, is recalled or is convicted of a crime.
Mark McNeil, one of Noguez’s top deputies in the assessor’s office who was also arrested on corruption charges Wednesday, posted bail Thursday morning. He has not yet entered a plea and is due back in court Nov. 7.
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