Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bribery charges refiled against ex-LA County Assessor

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More than six dozen felony charges have been refiled against former Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez and two others, alleging a scheme in which he took bribes in exchange for reduced property tax valuations, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

The case was originally filed in 2012 against Noguez, Mark McNeil, once an executive in the assessor’s office, and tax consultant Ramin Salari, but dismissed in May by an appellate court on a technical violation.

Noguez’s attorney, Anthony Falangetti, said the refiling was expected, alleging that the 78 total charges against the three defendants reflects the prosecution’s “convoluted, confusing theory of the case.”

Falangetti alleged that prosecutors faced “a lot of legal failures” in the much-delayed original case, in which some charges against Noguez were amended, consolidated or dropped during the eight years before the appellate panel’s ruling.

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“My client has always maintained his innocence and looks forward to proving it in court,” Falangetti told City News Service.

Noguez, McNeil and Salari each face one count of conspiracy to commit grand theft and 14 counts each of misappropriation of public funds and grand theft.

Noguez also faces an additional three counts of accepting a bribe, two counts each of embezzlement by a public or private officer and perjury by declaration, as well as one count of public records violation.

Additionally, Salari faces seven counts of grand theft, nine counts of embezzlement by a public or private officer and 23 counts of bribing an executive officer. Noguez and Salari also are jointly charged with two counts of grand theft.

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If convicted as charged, Noguez would face up to 36 years in state prison, and Salari and McNeil would face 59 and 22 years, respectively, behind bars.

The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday and are scheduled to return to the downtown criminal courthouse on Aug. 12. Bail is set at $1.16 million for each defendant.

The alleged crimes took place from 1999 to 2011 and resulted in the loss of more than $10 million for the county, prosecutors said.

In the original case, Noguez — also known by the name Juan Renaldo Rodriguez — was accused of accepting $185,000 in bribes from Salari as part of an alleged scheme to lower the valuations of certain properties for the tax consultant’s clients.

After a July 2018 preliminary hearing, Noguez, Salari and McNeil were held to answer on charges including conspiracy, grand theft, bribery and embezzlement. However, the District Attorney’s Office failed to file a charging document within 15 days of the hearing, as required by state law, according to the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal, which dismissed the case.

Former county property appraiser Scott Schenter, who is named in the case, is accused separately of falsifying documents and reducing property values by $172 million in exchange for campaign contributions to Noguez.

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