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‘Pay to Play Politics’ Rampant at LA County Assessor Office

Original post Feb 13, 2012
Lack of procedures lead to unauthorized reductions of 179 properties valued at over $1 Billion

Los Angeles County Assessor John R. Noguez has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations during the past two years. The money has come from hundreds of county employees who work directly for him and wealthy property owners, some of whom have received substantial reductions in their property value assessments, a Los Cerritos Community News investigation has learned.{{more}}
Noguez oversees the sprawling bureaucratic maze that controls more than a $1 trillion dollars in property value assessments. During the past two years, records from the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorders Office show that Noguez has been on a campaign collection fundraising spree that directly links wealthy property owners to his top appraisers inside his inner circle.
Noguez and his office are now involved in an active probe by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office of Public Integrity. LCCN was the first newspaper to break the details of the investigation in its February 10th edition. Since then, the Los Angeles Times and other well respected news outlets have begun reporting on the case.
During the past four weeks, LCCN has interviewed more than two dozen sources who work at the highest levels inside the Assessor’s offices, as well as many political contributors to his campaigns, and many categorize the 46 year-old Noguez as being a “classic pay to play politician” who “will do anything to advance his future ambitions.”
A review of campaign contributions from Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder records to Noguez by the staff of Los Cerritos Community News confirms that several dozen current employees who work and serve as commercial property appraisers, adjusters and other senior members in the Assessor’s office have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign war chest since 2009.
Noguez was elected as the Assessor of Los Angeles County in November 2010. He spent more money on his campaign than any other Assessor candidate in the history of the office.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and the Office of Public Integrity headed by Senior District Attorney Dave Demerjian launched a formal probe into the activities of the Assessor’s office on November 18, 2011 after receiving at least one formal complaint. The name of the person who filed the “inquiry” that has resulted in the opening of the probe has not been made public by members of the District Attorney’s office. LCCN has also spoken to three high-level sources inside the Assessor’s that have already been contacted by law enforcement officials.
LCCN first reported that the focus of the probe revolves around the political and professional relationship between Noguez and Encino businessman Ramin Salari as well as the activities of former appraiser Scott Schenter out of the West District Office of the Assessor.
Salari’s company website, “Assessment Appeals Services, LLP” claims to represent more than “6,000 property tax reassessments with a high success rate.” LCCN has been told by several sources that Salari has been involved in hundreds of property reassessment hearings on behalf of his wealthy client base.

POLITICAL SHAKEDOWN

Century City attorney A. David Yousseefyeh with ADF Law told LCCN on Tuesday that he was present at a political fundraiser for Noguez in Beverly Hills just months after Noguez took office as the elected Assessor. Yousseefyeh said, “I was blown out of my mind when Noguez showed up with five of his people from inside his office and in front of everybody, just lined them up one at a time and said hey, these are the guys from my office, and these are the ones who are responsible for overseeing the assessment of your property.”
LCCN has been told by another source that the swanky event cost attendees $1,000 per person and was held at the home of Michael Delijani, the owner of Delson Investments. Delijani owns one of the most historical buildings in downtown Los Angeles where the State Theater is location at 703 South Broadway. Now known as the United Building, the 14-story ornate structure is now an office building and is considered to be the historic birthplace of Downtown Los Angeles.
Records obtained by LCCN from the LA County Registrar Recorder confirms that Delijani and members of his family contributed over $20,000 in donations to Noguez since 2009.
“My mouth hit the ground,” Yousseefyeh said about the political gathering at Delijani’s home. “I know a political shake down when I see one, and this was the worst I have ever seen.”
In the past Yousseefyeh has represented several clients who were bilked out of more than $500 million from Los Angeles businessman and investor Ezri Namvar, 59 who was convicted on four counts of fraud in a downtown L.A. federal court last year. Namvar had failed to return $23 million given for safekeeping to his company, Namco Financial Exchange Corp. (NFE), and instead invested the money in risky real estate deals. “I know political crooks when I see them,” said Yousseefyeh. “Noguez is one of the worst I have ever encountered in my career.”
Yousseefyeh has been involved in more than 15 lawsuits against Salari, and also brought legal action against Noguez in the past. This was prior to his rise from a Huntington Park city councilman from a mid range employee in the Assessor’s office to the nation’s most powerful property evaluator.
“Noguez thinks he is still the Mayor of Huntington Park, and that his word is final, and that whatever he wants to do is acceptable,” Yousseefyeh said.
“He places his political contributors at the front of the line,” one appraiser who works in the Assessor’s office said. “Noguez could care less about what’s legal, all he cares about is being consumed with power and control,” the source told LCCN.

LCCN attempted to contact Noguez for comment and did speak to Noguez’ press secretary Louis Reyes on his cell phone Wednesday afternoon to ask for comment on the latest revelations.

Reyes hung up in midsentence.

Copyright. Los Cerritos Community News. Hews Media Group. 2012.

179 properties valued at over $1 Billion center of focus
By Brian Hews
LCCN has obtained a list from inside the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office that documents the unauthorized reduction in value of 179 properties.
The appraiser assigned to oversee the cases was relieved of his official duties and was forced to resign last year.
Sources inside the Assessor’s office told LCCN last week that the subject of the investigation would arrive at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration at 6 a.m. each day and placed his required documents into a lower level data entry clerk’s “in box.”
The clerk would proceed to enter the data, and checks from the reduction in the property value would be issued.
“This started happening after Noguez took office,” one source inside the Assessor’s office told LCCN. “It shows the complete lack of policy and procedures, and checks and balances that exist inside the Assessor’s office,” the source said.
Assessor press spokesman Louis Reyes refused comment on behalf of Noguez, in fact, Reyes hung up the phone in mid-sentence during the call.

Copyright. Los Cerritos Community Newspaper. Hews Media Group. 2012

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