Assets unfrozen for consultant accused of bribing assessor

April 22, 2013|By Jack Dolan

A Los Angeles County judge lifted freeze orders on roughly $3 million in assets belonging to Ramin Salari, the property tax consultant arrested in October on charges that he bribed county Assessor John Noguez to lower tax bills for wealthy clients.

On Monday afternoon, Superior Court Judge Shelly Torreabla wrote that prosecutors had been unable “to show good cause” for the freeze orders, which were placed on Salari’s property in October and December of last year.

She then ordered the district attorney’s office to remove liens from Salari’s house in Scottsdale, Ariz., and from his mother’s home in Encino, and to return four cars, including a BMW, a Mercedes-Benz and a Ferrari.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash held in Salari’s bank accounts were also released.

Salari’s attorney, Mark Werksman, said prosecutors failed to justify why they had seized the property in the first place.

“They walked into court and said we have no defense for having frozen a man’s assets and trying to seize everything he owns,” Werksman said.

Salari is charged with 23 counts of bribery, conspiracy and misappropriation of public funds. 

Asst. Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman said the reason his office didn’t fight the release order is that they had failed to publish notice of the seizures in the newspaper, a required formality.

“We believe this is a hyper-technical issue and it should in no way be interpreted as a problem with our case or something we should be concerned about,” Huntsman said.

After subpoenaing bank records last year, investigators found $180,000 in checks from Salari to Noguez in 2010 that prosecutors allege were bribes to reduce property tax bills for Salari’s clients. Those canceled checks are likely to be the cornerstone of the case against the two men.

Werksman declined to discuss the checks but insisted that the subsequent tax reductions were merited based on declining real estate values at the time. 

“Regardless of any payments that may have been made, there was no advantage to Ramin Salari, or any of his clients, that he didn’t deserve,” Werksman said.

Twitter: @jackdolanLAT

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