LA County Assessor John Noguez arrested amid corruption probe


District Attorney Steve Cooley is calling this the most significant level of corruption at the county level that he's ever seen. Noguez has been on leave after allegations that his office reduced property tax assessments in exchange for campaign contributions. Wednesday, he and two others were arrested.

Noguez was elected as assessor in 2010. Since then, Cooley's office has been looking into tax breaks given to a number of property owners. According to the district attorney's office, Noguez isn't even his real name - it's actually Juan Renaldo Rodriguez.

He allegedly had ties with a firm that helps property owners lower their property tax assessments. That company is owned by Ramin Salari, who was one of those arrested along with Noguez.

Clients of that company were reportedly pressured to make political contributions to Noguez and in exchange, their property taxes were reduced.

Meantime, there are allegations that employees in the assessor's office were under pressure to lower the client's property taxes. Officials allege that this practice cost taxpayers $1.6 million.

"The criminal charges filed against the assessor allege that instead of acting in the best interest of the citizens of Los Angeles County, he turned his back on them to engineer assessment reductions for those who paid for favored treatment," Cooley said at a news conference Wednesday.

Noguez was the former mayor of Huntington Park. This Monday, the entire Huntington Park City Council was served with recall papers. They are accused of financial mismanagement and lack of leadership. Activists allege Noguez still has influence in the city.

The charges against Noguez include bribery and corruption. His bail was set at $1.3 million. If convicted, Noguez faces up to 30 years and four months in state prison. Salari is also being held on $1.3 million bail and faces 29 years and four months in jail if convicted.

A third person, Mark McNeil, was also arrested on Wednesday. He was a principal assessor promoted by Noguez. He is being held on $1.1 million bail and faces 20 years and eight months in prison if convicted. He is charged with conspiracy and misappropriation charges.

The attorneys for all three men insist their clients are innocent. Despite his arrest and his leave of absence over the past few months, Noguez continues to receive his paycheck as county assessor. Officials say the only way for it to end is for Noguez to resign, be recalled or be criminally convicted.

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