Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez at a court appearance. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)
Supporters of Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, who was arrested last month in a sweeping corruption case on suspicion of taking bribes to reduce property assessments, are now being asked to donate money so he can make bail.
An email sent Friday afternoon from Noguez's personal account — signed by "Friends of John Noguez" — asked for contributions to the assessor's legal fund.
"As you may know, our friend John Noguez is in trouble and needs our support more than ever," the email said. "You can help John by making a donation today to help him make bail."
Included was a link to a private Web page where donations could be made by credit card, along with instructions on how to send a check.
Noguez and tax consultant Ramin Salari were arrested last month on dozens of corruption charges, including bribery and misappropriation of public funds. Prosecutors say Noguez took $185,000 in bribes from Salari, who charges his clients a percentage, typically 50%, of any tax savings.
Salari is also accused of paying $100,000 in bribes to a lower-level assessor's office employee, Scott Schenter, to illegally reduce property values. Schenter pleaded not guilty to fraud charges in May.
On Oct. 23, a judge refused to reduce Noguez's bail below $1.16 million — the amount prosecutors say the county lost in tax revenue because of the alleged scheme.
The "Friends of John Noguez" email complained about the district attorney's treatment of Noguez and the "outrageous and unfair bail amount."
"John deserves an opportunity to tell his side of the story," the email said. "Yet John has been in solitary confinement for two weeks, isolated, and unable to have visitors."
One source, who asked to remain anonymous because of his friendship with the embattled assessor, received the email and said he's considering making a donation.
"I'll be honest, I'll probably send him fifty bucks," the source said.
Michael Proctor, Noguez's attorney, declined to comment on the email. But in a statement released Saturday to The Times, Proctor said: "John Noguez has had many expressions of support from a wide variety of sectors of the community. The only person who speaks officially for John, however, is me. No one else."
It's unclear whether Noguez orchestrated the email or whether it was sent independently by supporters.
In court last month, Proctor told the judge that Noguez could not afford to make the $1.16 million bail and asked for a bail of $400,000.
Prosecutors began probing the case last year. This April, investigators served a search warrant at Noguez's Huntington Park home and found what they characterized as a list from Salari of 18 properties whose values he wanted reduced. The assessor's office made good on nearly all of Salari's requests, prosecutors said.
Noguez and Salari described the payments as loans, according to prosecutors, who noted that Noguez only tried to pay back some of the money earlier this year "shortly after reporters from the Los Angeles Times began making inquiries regarding allegations of misconduct at the Assessor's Office." Prosecutors also described a $5,000 campaign contribution in February 2010 from Salari to Noguez as another bribe.
Both Noguez and Salari steadfastly denied any wrongdoing through their attorneys.
Noguez took an indefinite, paid leave of absence in June from his $197,637-per-year assessor's job.