Published June 11, 2012
| The Wall Street Journal
Property values in the ritzy communities of Beverly Hills and Brentwood have fallen along with those elsewhere amid the recession. But prosecutors here say that for some of those houses and businesses the drop isn't because of the economy, it's criminal.
An investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office last month led to the arrest of a former county appraiser on felony charges for allegedly improperly lowering dozens of property values by a combined $172 million.
The arrest was part of an continuing criminal investigation of the Los Angeles County Assessor's office to determine whether homeowners and businesses in some of the nation's richest neighborhoods were given tax breaks in exchange for campaign contributions to the assessor.
The district attorney said he also is investigating whether the current county assessor, John Noguez, and other members of Mr. Noguez's staff reduced property values for some wealthy clients of tax agent Ramin Salari. Mr. Salari and members of his family contributed $10,000 to Mr. Noguez's election campaign, according to county records.
Mr. Noguez hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing, and his lawyer, Michael Proctor, said "once all the facts come to the fore, John will not be accused of undermining the mission of the office."
Mr. Salari hasn't been charged, either. The allegations being investigated by the district attorney are "absolutely untrue," said Mr. Salari's lawyer, Mark Werksman. "Every reduction he's obtained has been based on documentation that justifies a lower assessment."