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By Randy Economy and Brian Hews
Los Angeles County Assessor John R. Noguez has been subpoenaed to appear in a Downtown Los Angeles courtroom on April 16 regarding a case involving one of his biggest campaign contributors-Encino businessman Ramin Salari-Los Cerritos Community Newspaper has learned exclusively.
Noguez was served with the subpoena late Thursday at his office located inside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration in Los Angeles at the behest of San Diego attorney Jason Saccuzzo of the law firm Vivoli Saccuzzo, LLP.
The case revolves around Salari and his Nevada based company, Assessment Appeals, LLC., and a Los Angeles couple Robert and Hersel Neman who contracted with his company in 2010 regarding the reassessment of properties located at the 800 block of Harvard Avenue, as well as the 3400 block of West Eighth Street, both in Los Angeles. Saccuzzo is representing the Nemans.
Salari is seeking damages for a “failure to make payment” on a commission for obtaining an “alleged reduction” of property taxes as allowed under a voter passed imitative known as Proposition 8.
In a demurrer filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on October 18, Saccuzzo argued that since Salari did not possess any kind of advanced degree, such as a CPA license or a Doctorate of Jurisprudence, that he was not qualified to argue cases in front of the Assessor Appeals Board.
One day earlier, on October 17, 2011, Salari sent an email to Noguez alerting the embattled Assessor about the case under the subject line “AAS-Demurrer.” Three members of Noguez top inner circle were carbon copied in the email: former Assessor Chief of Staff Chris Carlos, and Appraiser Specialists Andrew Stephens and Eric Haagenson.
In the email, obtained exclusively by Los Cerritos Community News from the Assessor’s Office via a recent series of document requests under the “Freedom of Information Act,” Salari informs Noguez that “the defendants are arguing a licensed attorney or licensed public accountant are required to act as a ‘tax agent.’ “
Salari goes on to tell Noguez in the email that his “legal counsel is handling this matter; however, I am sending the attached per your request.”
“This could have serious implications to all taxpayers and tax agents throughout the state,” Salari tells Noguez.
In an interview with Los Angeles Times investigative reporters Ruben Vives and Jack Dolan on Tuesday, February 23, Noguez denied doing any “favors” for Salari or his clients, but said “he can’t control what tax agents, like Salari, tell property owners when they are soliciting business.”
LCCN obtained the Mar. 6 deposition of Salari by Saccuzzo that took place in Irvine about the case involving the Neman’s and point blanked asked him under oath if he had ever “asked Mr. Noguez to address any of the issues raised by these properties” involving the Neman’s Salari answered “no.”
His response is a direct contradiction to the email he had previously sent Noguez and the revelation has brought new light onto the normally routine legal matter.
Saccuzzo also asks Salari under oath if he ever asked “Mr. Noguez to address any of the issues raised by these properties; any reductions?” Salari responded “no.”
Saccuzzo said as soon as he learned about the email trail between Noguez and Salari involving the Neman (during an interview with Los Cerritos Community News), he immediately determined that Noguez needed to be subpoenaed about his knowledge of the case.
“Thank you for shedding light on Salari’s relationship with Noguez. I wasn’t aware Salari had e-mailed Noguez regarding the licensing issues raised in my clients’ lawsuits,” Saccuzzo told Los Cerritos Community Newspaper Publisher Brian Hews in an email.
In another revelation, Saccuzzo asked Salari about his involvement in raising political contributions from his vast list of clients to Noguez campaign war chest.
“Did you ever request the Neman’s to participate in any campaign fundraisers for Mr. Noguez,” Saccuzzo asked in the deposition.
“If they’re on my client (list), they received a blanket mass letter — mass mailing e-mails. So they would have been received mass mailer,” Salari responded.
“Do you keep an e-mail list of your clients, and are there occasions where you’ll send out a mass e-mail to clients regarding campaign fundraising events for Mr. Noguez,” asked Saccuzzo.
“At the time, yes,” Salari said. “You no longer do that?” Saccuzzo asked Salari. “No,” he responded. “Any reason for that,” Saccuzzo said. “He made the assessor,” Salari quipped.
Saccuzzo also asked Salari if he had ever promised Mr. Noguez any favors or rewards for helping you out on any particular property? In a stunning response, according to the 185 page deposition, Salari attorney Jon-Rene Glover immediately objected to the question over “lack of relevancy.”
Glover then goes on to say that “my client’s (Salari, is) going to invoke the Fifth Amendment, right to self-incrimination.”
“Are you going to follow that instruction,” Saccuzzo asks Salari.
Glover jumps in and tells Salari “I’m going to instruct you not to respond.” Saccuzzo then asks in a clarification: “I’ve got to ask,” and Salari said he would follow ‘that instruction’ and evoke the Fifth Amendment.
“Would it be fair to say that any questions pertaining to your client’s relationship with Mr. Noguez would evince similar Fifth Amendment objections,” Saccuzzo asks, and Glover responds “yes.”
Salari is then asked if he has ever been indicted for any “crime or any charge related to Mr. Noguez?”
Glover than tells Salari, “you can respond. Have you been indicted? Do you know what indicted means?” Salari answered “no.” Salari concluded the deposition by stating that he has never been convicted of any crime in the past.
Saccuzzo then tells the court reporter to “prepare the transcript” and to send it directly to Glover for Salari to sign under penalty of perjury.
Saccuzzo told Los Cerritos Community News that “with respect to the relevance of the Los Angeles County Assessor’s position on allowing non-attorneys/accountants to prosecute appeals, we’re asking the trial court to enjoin the practice.”
“We need to establish that it is in fact the practice of the Los Angeles County Assessor to allow non-attorneys/accountants to prosecute tax appeals,” Saccuzzo said.
“Further, if Salari is violating any internal policies and/or if Salari has manipulated any such policies through his relationship with Noguez that would be highly relevant to my clients’ unfair business practice claim,” Saccuzzo said.
“I would further note that lawyers are governed by strict rules of ethics, which prevent the type of insider dealing that has been alleged against Noguez and Salari in the newspapers,” he said.
“If a lawyer were to have engaged in the type of conduct Salari is alleged to have engaged in, that lawyer would likely face discipline from the California State Bar,” Saccuzzo said in an email to LCCN.
“Accordingly, I think the public should be very concerned about allowing unlicensed persons such as Salari prosecute tax appeals. Given the lack of restrains on unlicensed persons such as Salari, it creates a situation that absolutely invites corruption. This is one reason why one must obtain a license to practice law or public accountancy; to protect the public against such corrupt practices,” Saccuzzo said.
“Accordingly, my clients’ unfair business practice claim seeks to protect members of the public against such unlicensed activities. Indeed, I would be very interested in finding out if Noguez knew Salari was unlicensed, and whether that had anything to do with Noguez’s decision to accept campaign contributions from Salari. Certainly, no lawyer would (or ethically could) ever contribute to the campaign of a judge if the lawyer knew he or she would be before that judge,” he concluded.
© Copyright. 2012. Los Cerritos Community Newspaper Group. Hews Media Group.
All Rights Reserved. Republishing granted with proper attribution.
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