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Ex-County Planner Jailed in Fraud Case

Crime: Emmet Taylor, 64, is charged with 97 counts of forgery, falsification of land records.

October 10, 2002|NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office arrested a former county planner Wednesday night who is charged with 97 counts of forgery and falsification of public records in an alleged massive land fraud case that has cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars to correct.

Emmet Taylor, 64, was arrested as he returned to his Fullerton home from knee surgery, according to Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. He was taken into custody without incident and, as a precaution, booked into the jail ward at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, Gibbons said.

Prosecutors have spent more than a year investigating Taylor, who county officials say issued hundreds of illegal certificates allowing land to be developed without the required environmental and public review. Officials have said Taylor, who ran a real estate consulting business out of his home, issued the documents, called certificates of compliance, in exchange for bribes.

The certificates are obscure but powerful planning documents that allow land to be developed without the standard public hearing and environmental review process required by modern zoning laws.

They apply to parcels that have development rights that predate more recent growth restrictions. Certificates of compliance are issued only after the owners of the parcels can produce evidence that they were legal lots before those development laws were enacted.

But the county has alleged that Taylor gave certificates to property owners who did not qualify.

Taylor was fired by the county in late 2000 after auditors reviewed 57 certificates he had issued and found all were improper, according to legal papers. Prosecutors were alerted to the case in January of last year.

Taylor's attorney, Richard Shinee, could not be reached Wednesday night. He has said his client followed county procedure.

Planning officials say Taylor issued the phony certificates to a wide array of landowners in various rural pockets of the county, predominantly in the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

The county has spent more than $300,000 to fund a task force that is reviewing the more than 1,000 certificates Taylor issued. In several cases, the county has forced property owners to halt construction and reapply for permits.

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