Who Made John Noguez?

MAILANDER MUSINGS - A longtime County administrator, apparently without the benefit of a college degree, and using a name he wasn't born with, suddenly becomes a small-time, small-town politician in Huntington Park while continuing to serve his County.

Then, just as suddenly but even more improbably, he wins a countywide election--this in the most populous county in America--enabling him as the new County Assessor to set property assessments worth hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue.

And while doing all that in two short years, the novice politician out-fundraises his political opponents by a staggering 20-1 clip.

Now his office is being investigated for influence peddling, trading assessment breaks for campaign favors, and potentially more, as assessments (and their attached tax revenue) through Los Angeles County have dried up even as the County Assessor's own political fortunes had once flourished.

Not even the LA Riots of two decades ago succeeded in diminishing assessments--and attendant tax revenue--so thoroughly as John Noguez's County Assessor's office did in a few short months.

The question is: who made John Noguez, and if someone did, what were they hoping he would do for them in return?

One of the enablers of Noguez in his unlikely 2010 run for County Assessor was none other than LA's own Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who brought Noguez a key endorsement and never backed off of it, even while the LA Times was finding flaws with the candidate and endorsing one of his rivals.

Another key backer was California Assemblymember Gil Cedillo, presently running for the seat that Ed Reyes will vacate on LA City Council in 2013.

Even four of the five LA County Supervisors--Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina, Don Knabe, and Mark Ridley-Thomas--enthusiastically endorsed the man with the suspicious pedigree when he made his 2010 run.  Among the Supes, only Mike Antonovich demurred.  And Noguez's own "Being There" styled flickr feed, post 2009, features him suddenly mugging with local notables like Councilmember Jan Perry and Congresswoman Judy Chu.  He was also endorsed by the persnickety and tax-hostile Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association--an endorsement not typically won or even sought by most Los Angeles County politicians.

"I endorsed (LA County Assessor John Noguez), and I am disappointed in him," Supervisor Knabe told the Pasadena Star-News and the County at large in a State of the County speech yesterday.

The Supervisors and other local notables endorsed Noguez largely because Noguez held the blessings of former County Assessor Rick Auerbach and especially Gary Townsend, now retired from the County Assessor's office, who joined consultant Harvey Englander's public relations firm Englander, Knabe & Allen as a partner earlier this year.

Townsend, Mike Woo's former top deputy when Woo was an LA Councilmember, is a bit of a political chameleon, having early on served both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.  He actively campaigned for Noguez and recently went to bat for him at the LA Weekly when the scandal first began to break.

The Weekly reported in October 2010 that the name on the then Mayor of Huntington Park's birth certificate was not John or even Juan Noguez but "Juan Renaldo Rodriguez."  Los Angeles County records indicate that Noguez/Rodriguez never has had his name legally changed--even while running for the top money slot in Los Angeles County.

Scott Schenter, a former administrator for the Assessor's Office, is the key whistleblower in the allegations.  As a result of an interview Schenter granted the LA Times last week, the District Attorney's office is especially investigating Noguez's relationship to Ramin Salari, a Phoenix-based tax attorney with many wealthy Westside clients in a position to benefit from tax breaks.

Another prominent name in the Noguez drama is Richard Ayoob, a noteworthy tax attorney whose high-profile practice secures tax advantages for its clients.  Ayoob's firm boasts at its own website that it recently secured "what we believe is the largest property tax refund in Los Angeles County history."

Complaints about the company Noguez keeps emerged as early as his 2010 County Assessor campaign, when the LA Times backed away from his candidacy and the Los Cerritos Community News reported on Noguez's Huntington Park civic involvements with vigor.  (Los Cerritos Community News reporter Randy Economy has termed Noguez's Huntington Park experience a "training ground" for what might have come later on the County's vast stage).  

But when Assessor Noguez appeared before the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, advising them that revenue projections were substantially less than what was projected as recently as December, the County's Controllers Office was invited to audit the Assessor's Office, and the District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit also ramped up their investigation of Noguez.

Not many in LA's political community wished to talk publicly about the allegations against Noguez and the District Attorney's investigation.  But privately, many were anxious to establish a distance between themselves and Noguez as the DA's investigation proceeds.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at street-hassle.blogspot.com.)

Tags: Joseph Mailander, Mailander Musings, John Noguez, LA County, County Controller, District Attorney, Public Integrity Unit, Mayor Villaraigosa, County Supervisors, Mike Woo 

Vol 10 Issue 34
Pub: Apr 27, 2012