Editors Note: Watchourcity.com will be at the court hearing on December 10. Check back on a frequent basis for updates.
Call it the crime of the decade, or Los Angeles largest political corruption case that has taken almost 10 years to literally get to trial. It appears to finally be getting underway.
The criminal trial of former Los Angeles County Assessor John R. Noguez, and fellow defendant’s property tax agent Ramin Salari, former Assessor chief appraiser Mark McNeil, and appraiser Scott Schenter are scheduled to appear in a Downtown Los Angeles courtroom on December 10 before Superior Court Judge Lomeli.
Regardless of what transpires during the upcoming court appearance, one thing is for sure, the criminal trial of Noguez, Salari, Mc Neil and Schenter may end up being the longest criminal case ever tried in sprawling Los Angeles County.
And it appears that the case is far from over before it even gets to the next phase. This case is a textbook example of how a criminal court case can drag on forever.
Noguez is charged with grand theft as the mastermind in an alleged scheme that resulted in what prosecutors allege to be fraudulent massive property devaluations to some of the most expensive upscale buildings and businesses in some of the most wealthy real estate sections of Los Angeles County.
“Whatever he wanted he was taken care of”
The alleged crimes took place almost eight years ago, and the case has been literally spun into a tangled web of legal maneuvers and filings from attorneys representing Noguez, Salari, Mc Neil and Schenter.
On October 17, 2012, Noguez was arrested on 44 counts of conspiracy, bribery, and corruption, with bail set at $1.36 million. The original complaint alleged, that Noguez accepted $185,000 in bribes from Salari between February and September 2010. Prosecutors later added additional charges. Los Cerritos Community News was the first to break the story and has a significant number of stories about Assessor John Noguez.
Noguez claimed that the “bribes” were “loans” to his campaign for L.A. County Assessor and that he intended to pay them back presumably after the campaign was over.
Salari was literally given a free access pass “to go to the office and berate the employees who opposed the reduction.”
The scandal came into the public glare when prosecutors acknowledged that they were looking into complaints from the assessor’s office employees who said they were “under pressure to lower property taxes” for Noguez political campaign contributors under the guidance of Salari. In one complaint, it was reported that appraisers inside the Assessor office, resisted reducing the assessed value of a property represented by Salari from $44 million all the way down to $30 million.
Former District Attorney Steve Cooley and his team of prosecutors in 2012 said that Salari was literally given a free access pass “to go to the office and berate the employees who opposed the reduction.” Many employees interviewed at the time who work in the Assessors office said that Salari would “bully employees directly” in “condescending and bellicose tone.”
At the time, McNeil’s role, according to Cooley was that he was to help carry out the alleged scheme by helping carry out the tax reductions for Salari’s clients.
Salari’s clients owned some of the most expensive and premier buildings in Los Angeles County including businesses in Hollywood and parcels in Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, Torrance, Los Angeles, Glendale, and Burbank.
The case is expected to reveal how Salari’s clients were given six-figure tax refunds from the county, according to court records. Some called the treatment of Salari from Noguez as “whatever he wanted he was taken care of.” The refunds were distributed in the form of checks from the coffers of the County of Los Angeles. Beyond the property tax refunds, it is alleged that the lower property valuations would also result in lower future tax collection by the County.
In one case, it was alleged that two Hermosa Beach apartment complexes got refunds totaling more than $560,000.
Last week, Greg Risling, who is a spokesman for Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacy confirmed the details of the pretrial hearing in an email to WatchOurCity.com.
Risling confirmed that the case is being overseen by two of the top prosecutors inside the LACDA’s operation, Michele Gilmer and Craig Hum. Gilmer and Hum have been working in tandem on the case for the past several years.
So, will the case begin on December 10 as Risling claims? Or, will this court date slip like many others and just be another item on a packed court docket in a case that has been problematic since the day Salari, Mc Neil and Schenter were first arrested.
The case details are staggering. There has been legal motion after motion filed in this case, too many to actually keep track of since the defendants were arrested.
Noguez has hired and fired several attorney’s in defense of his case that has exhausted the case for years. In addition, the case was delayed due to medical issues with an individual on the defense team and numerous legal filings.
The evidence includes more than 45,000 pages of discovery to an endlessly bloated set of prosecution criminal complaints that were required to be amended many times. And, in a conference held with the judge earlier this year, a representative from the Assessor’s office stated confusion as to which documents were provided as evidence in previous years and which still needed to be handed over due to multiple requests over almost a decade.
Potential witnesses to testify in the case could become a parade of some of the most wealthy and influential political powerbrokers that dot the LA landscape.
It appears that the wild card player in the case is actually the defendant who was the first to be arrested in the case, months before Noguez, Salari, and McNeil were brought down in an early morning raid at their individual residences – that being Scott Schenter.
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times shortly before his arrest, Schenter said Noguez had promised him a promotion and then exerted pressure on him to raise campaign contributions. It was widely reported that Schenter said he would unilaterally reduce the value of some properties to generate donations to help Noguez retire debt from his campaign for Assessor in 2010.
In his race for L.A. County Assessor, Noguez raised more than $1 million while his closest competitor John Y. Wong raised less than $50,000.
At the time of his arrest, Schenter had left Los Angeles County and was living in Oregon. Schenter allegedly falsified department documents and unlawfully lowered property values by $172 million for multimillion-dollar homes and businesses. At the time, Schenter allegedly was helping secure campaign contributions from the owners for Noguez political war chest.
WatchOurCity.com has set up a separate section for all articles and documents of the Noguez trial. They can be found here: https://watchourcity.com/Issues/crimes-and-investigations/the-criminal-trial-of-los-angeles-assessor-john-noguez-special-investigative-series/