LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, whose office is the target of a corruption probe by the District Attorney’s Office, announced Friday he will be taking a leave of absence.
“In the interest of restoring public confidence in the professionalism, integrity and impartiality of the Assessor’s Office, I intend to take a leave of absence from my duties as assessor,” Noguez wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.
“I do not take this decision lightly.
“I do this with the solemn hope that my leave of absence will allow the professionals at the Assessor’s Office to continue to serve the taxpayers and citizens of this county,” he wrote.
Noguez, who was elected in November 2010, has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks over allegations that some property owners were receiving favorable tax assessments in exchange for political support.
A former appraiser with the Assessor’s Office, Scott Schenter, was arrested last month and charged with slashing the values, and tax bills, of properties in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades in exchange for donations to Noguez’s campaign.
Schenter faces up to 33 years in prison if convicted.
District Attorney Steve Cooley called on Noguez to resign.
“The decision today by Assessor John Noguez to take a voluntary leave of absence is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this will help get the Assessor’s Office back on track.
“It will have no impact on the criminal investigation being conducted by this office. The investigation is ongoing, multi-faceted and active,” Cooley said.
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said Noguez’s decision to take a leave of absence “begins the process of restoring the public’s confidence and trust in the office.”
Antonovich recently introduced a motion calling for an advisory question to be placed on the November ballot asking voters if they believe the assessor should be changed from an elected position to an appointed post.
Supervisor Don Knabe said he was “pleased” with Noguez’s decision.
“While this investigation is under way, it is critical that stability is maintained for the Assessor’s Office and operations,” Knabe said.
Schenter, 49, is due back in court next week. He worked for the Assessor’s Office from 1988 to 2011. Prosecutors contend he devalued properties by about $172 million in exchange for campaign contributions.
In his letter to the Board of Supervisors, Noguez said the chief deputy assessor would manage the office in his absence, although that position is vacant. The board is expected to discuss the vacancy on Wednesday.
He also said his leave would “allow me to address certain personal medical and bereavement issues.”
He wrote that he was cooperating with the district attorney’s investigation.
“My interest has been, and continues to be, the health and well-being of the office, which I am proud to have served for over 27 years,” he wrote.
Dave Bryan, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, spoke to LA City Councilman Dennis Zine who also said he was pleased Noguez decided to step aside. He also said the large assessment reductions during his regime must not be reevaluated. “We need to look at all of it.”
In April, Bryan says, law enforcment officers swooped down on Noguez’s Huntington Park home and carried off boxes full of documents and other potential eveidence. Noguez’s departure is expected soon, when a successor is chosen by the Board of Supervisors. The LA Times quotes sources who say former County Assessor Rick Auerbach may be on the short list to take over.
Noguez will also continue to collect his nearly $200,000 a year salary while on leave.
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