John Noguez, who was elected L.A. County assessor in 2010, still officially… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles County supervisors are slated to approve a new acting head in the assessor's office, which has been rocked by allegations that Assessor John Noguez and others traded bribes for lower property tax bills.
Noguez, who was elected assessor in 2010, still officially holds the top position but has been on paid leave for more than a year after the district attorney's office opened an investigation that led to charges against him, one of his top aides and a tax consultant.
Noguez faces 30 felony counts, including accepting bribes, perjury and misappropriation of public funds. He has maintained that he is innocent but took a voluntary leave of absence in June 2012. He was criminally charged that October, along with Mark McNeil, an executive in the assessor's office, and tax agent and major campaign contributor Ramin Salari. A lower-level assessor's employee, former appraiser Scott Schenter, had been arrested on related charges in May 2012.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday to nominate Assistant Assessor Sharon Moller to take over as chief deputy assessor and de facto head of the department. Santos Kreimann, who had held the post since Noguez went on leave, moved to a position in the county's chief executive office Monday.
Kreimann said in an email to assessor's office employees that his tenure there was always intended to be temporary and that he had the "utmost confidence" in Moller.
"I was charged with stabilizing the Office, helping establish direction, and restoring the public's trust in the Office," he wrote. "Together, we have accomplished those objectives."
Moller could not be reached for comment Monday. She is a 23-year veteran of the assessor's office and had held several management positions before Kreimann appointed her assistant assessor in October.
She contributed $1,000 to Noguez's campaign in 2010 but later butted heads with his administration. Noguez deputy McNeil wrote a lengthy memo in December 2011 in which he accused Moller and a former Noguez deputy, Dave Zoraster, of "management insubordination" and of "subjecting a known donor and political supporter to what seems to be a biased appraisal."
Moller and Zoraster had advocated for a higher valuation on a property represented by Salari, who is accused of paying bribes in exchange for lower assessments for his clients.
Zoraster, who resigned over Salari's influence in the office, said of Moller, "I think she understands appraisal better than most people, and I think she can stand up under pressure. Sharon stood up to Salari when nobody else was going to."
If her appointment is approved as expected, Moller will make $161,252 a year.
The assessor's post is up for election again in June 2014. The candidate filing period does not open until February, but four people — Omar Haroon, John Loew, John Morris and John Wong — have already filed statements that allow them to begin fundraising.
Noguez has not said publicly if he will run for reelection but has so far not heeded calls to step down. He has received two annual cost-of-living raises while on leave that boosted his salary from about $192,000 to $201,392. His attorney could not be reached for comment Monday.
In December, the supervisors considered using a little-known provision in state law that would allow them to declare the assessor's position vacant because Noguez — who was in jail at the time — had not performed his job duties in three months. But after a closed-door meeting, they decided not to act.
The supervisors have since banned tax agents from making campaign contributions to assessor candidates and approved rules requiring tax agents to register with the county, similar to lobbyists.
Times staff writer Jack Dolan contributed to this report.