LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles County district attorney’s office spokeswoman confirmed Monday that prosecutors launched an inquiry in November into an ethics complaint made by a private citizen against county assessor John Noguez.
Findings made by the district attorney’s office during its inquiry will determine whether it decides to open a criminal investigation that could lead to an indictment, said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.
Investigators in the DA’s public integrity unit are looking into whether Noguez granted special favors by knocking millions of dollars off property assessments for commercial property owners who worked with tax agent Ramin Salari, a Noguez campaign fundraiser.
The reductions on the properties in question occurred in 2009 when Noguez worked as an assessor in the major properties division, according to Noguez spokesman Louis Reyes.
Noguez was elected county assessor in June 2010 after working in the assessors office for 25 years.
Reyes pointed out that the assessor’s office had its hands full reassessing properties to match new market rates after the bottom fell out of the real estate market in 2008.
Reductions in a property’s assessed value results in a lower tax bill for the property owner — and less revenue for local governments.
“We don’t think anything is going to come out of this inquiry,” Reyes said. “The allegations about any impropriety are completely false.”
The issue isn’t likely to hit the rating agencies’ radar unless there is a criminal investigation, and even then it would depend on the dollar value of the reductions, said Alan Gibson, director of U.S. public finance in the San Francisco office of Fitch Ratings.
“The county has such a large tax base that it would take a huge reduction in value to have an impact,” Gibson said.
The overall fiscal 2012 taxable assessed valuation for the county is $1.069 trillion, Gibson said; it would take a huge swing to have a material impact on property tax revenues.
California’s base property tax is 1% of assessed value, so a $1 million reduction in assessed values, would create a $10,000 annual reduction in property tax revenue, Gibson said.
Economists estimated that the value of commercial real estate buildings in Los Angeles County were worth 40% to 60% less following the crash than they were at the peak.
The county’s assessed tax roll experienced slight decreases in fiscal 2009 and 2010 and experienced a 1% increase in 2011, according to Gibson.
The county is projecting the same increase for 2012, he said.
Fitch last Tuesday affirmed Los Angeles County’s implied rating on its general obligation bonds at AA-minus.