LA Councilmen Weigh In On County Assessor Investigation

They want independent assessment of suspect properties.

By City News Service

Just one day after an arrest was made in a growing corruption probe of the Los Angeles’ County Assessor’s Office, two Los Angeles City Council members on Tuesday called for new assessments of properties that may have had their values lowered inappropriately by that office.

Citing a potential loss in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Councilmen Dennis Zine and Paul Krekorian co-sponsored a motion asking the county Board of Supervisors to order a re-assessment of properties that received a 20 percent or greater reduction in their property taxes since December 2010. The councilmen also urged Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez to temporarily step aside during the investigation.

A former appraiser with the Assessor’s Office was arrested Monday for allegedly falsifying documents and lowering property values by about $172 million in exchange for campaign contributions by property owners to County Assessor John Noguez.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Scott Schenter, 49, was charged last week with 60 felony counts — 30 counts of falsifying accounts and 30 counts of falsifying records. He was arrested in Beaverton, Ore., and was being held in lieu of $1.5 million bail.

Schenter worked for the Assessor’s Office from 1988 to 2011 and allegedly slashed the values — and as a result the property tax bills — of multimillion-dollar homes, condominiums and businesses in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, according to prosecutors. He allegedly secured political contributions for Noguez from the affected home and business owners.

Zine said property tax revenue accounts for about one-fifth of the money the city uses for basic services like public safety, parks, libraries and street repairs.
“This money is essential in funding these critical city services,” Zine said.

He cited one instance in which a real estate developer contributed to Noguez’s 2010 campaign and subsequently had his property assessed at $11.5 million — after purchasing the property for $21.5 million. The assessment resulted in a $100,000 reduction in property taxes and $30,000 drop in city revenues.

“Two years ago I supported John Noguez in his campaign for L.A. County Assessor,” Zine said. “Today, I’m standing with my colleague Paul Krekorian and asking John Noguez to do the right thing and temporarily vacate the office, permitting someone else to run that department.”

Krekorian said lost property tax revenue from Schenter’s property assessment reductions might have cost the city $500,000 in lost revenues to the city.

“At a time like this, more than any other, we can’t afford to let a single penny of tax revenue go uncollected for inappropriate reasons,” Krekorian said.

The resolution asks the Board of Supervisors to order the independent assessment. The resolution will go to the City Council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee for approval, before heading to the full City Council.

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May 24, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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