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By Brian Hews

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has opened a formal inquiry into the activities of Assessor John R. Noguez, Los Cerritos Community Newspaper has learned exclusively.

Noguez who was elected in November 2010 is the subject of a probe that launched on November 18, 2011.

In an interview with David Demerjian, Senior District Attorney with the Office of Public Integrity on Monday, said a complaint was filed late last year and that “an inquiry has been commenced.”

LCCN has also been told by four senior members who work at the highest levels for Noguez that the focus of the probe revolves around the relationship between Noguez and Encino businessman Ramin Salari.

Salari is the owner of Assessment Appeals Services, LLP.  According to their company website, Salari touts his company’s ability to help “more than 6,000 property tax reassessments with a high success rate.”

Noguez spokesman Louis Reyes said that “they have not received anything whatsoever from the District Attorney’s Office.”

“You are asking us to comment on something we don’t have any knowledge about,” Reyes said. On Wednesday, Reyes called LCCN and said that Noguez had been told by Demerjian that “the Assessor was not the subject of the inquiry.”

On Thursday, at 9 a.m. after the story broke on the LCCN website and confirmed in the Los Angeles Times by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ruben Vives, Demerjian called LCCN Publisher Brian Hews and Reporter Randy Economy and denied ever having a conversation with the Assessor about the probe.  Further, Demerjian said that he has only met Noguez on a couple of occasions at social events. “I have never spoken to the man,” Demerjian said.

LCCN has been told that the investigation centers on the influence that Salari has been able to leverage on behalf of his private clientele with his longtime political ally Noguez.

Salari has helped finance campaigns for Noguez going back to his days as an elected member of the Huntington Park City Council.  In 2003, Salari donated more than $15,000 in printing to Noguez and two other allies during a HP City Council campaign, according to documents obtained by LCCN.

LCCN has also been told that Salari has personally attended numerous meetings with at least three senior level members of Noguez inner circle to arrest pressure on professional county appraisers to directly devalue assessed property rates on behalf of Salari clients at Assessment Appeal’s Services, LLP.

Several sources inside the Assessor’s office tell LCCN that Noguez staff members Andrew Stevens, Assistant Assessor Eric Haagenson and Chief Appraiser to Major Real Properties Mark McNeil have been with Salari in heated meetings with lower level appraisers in order to have commercial properties devalued.  The meetings took place in the Assessor North County Offices located in Encino and West Los Angeles.

In one of those meeting, LCCN has been told that Stevens berated a lower level appraiser in a heated confrontation and directed the staff member to “do as he was told” with Salari standing right next to him in the meeting.

One high ranking assessor who has worked for the county for more than three decades, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that as many as 171 properties are involved in the probe, with more than one billion dollars in property devaluations involved.

“This is Bell on steroids,” the source told LCCN.

“This is a classic case of interference of government officials to reduce the valuation of someone’s property that has direct political ties to an elected assessor,” said one senior ranking county appraiser.

Noguez has been with the Assessor’s office for the past 25 years, and was elected to the top position in 2010.  He is responsible for locating all taxable property in the sprawling county and to indentify the true legal owners of each property.

Salari is considered to be a key part of Noguez inner political circle dating back to his days when the first term Assessor served as an elected member of the Huntington Park City Council.

(Published February 7, 2012. Copyright. Los Cerritos Community News. Hews Media Group.)