Saturday, August 6, 2016

Miscarriage of Justice Continues: the Corrupt John Noguez Still Walks Free

Is there no justice left in Los Angeles County?

It has been four years -- four long years! -- and John Noguez still walks free.

He has been charged, and yet the case has not even had a preliminary hearing yet!

Four years!

What is this madness?

Sources in the community have told me that Noguez is connected to so  many elected officials.

His downfall would lead to the downfall of many other politically connected officialss throughout Los Angeles County.

How many elected officials pulled his ear to get a mark-down on their properties for lower taxes?

How many have been wheeling and dealing with Noguez to keep their own political power in check?

Let's state some very obvious elements about Los Angeles politics.

The county government is too big, and way too intrusive.

Let's just establish that right now. The more government programs and interventions, the more influence peddling and corruption will flourish.

Reformers in Los Angeles County were discussing how to remedy the corruption concerns connected with the County Assessor's office.

Here's an idea: do we have to have an assessor in the first place?

How about setting a flat rate for property taxes? Two bedroom homes receive one type of assessment.

Another property will receive another assessment, and so one.

Property taxes should not be based on how much a home is worth based on fair-market value. The market value of a property can fluctuate so much, and homeowners should not be punished because the value of their homes have increased.

But back to No No Noguez ...

How is it possible that this Corruptito is still walking around free?

The Los Angeles Times offered a sound assessment, with as much information as made available would allow:

Four years after his arrest, former L.A. County Assessor John Noguez still hasn't had his day in court
Former L.A. County Assessor John Noguez
Then-L.A. County Assessor John Noguez was arrested on corruption charges in 2012, but his case has not yet made it to trial. The preliminary hearing has been postponed more than a dozen times. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
Abby Sewell

John Noguez, then Los Angeles County assessor, was walked out of his Huntington Park home in handcuffs one October day in 2012, accused of taking $185,000 in bribes from a tax consultant in exchange for orchestrating decreased property valuations that would mean lower tax bills for the consultant’s clients.

Oh happy day. The residents in Huntington Park despised this man, and they knew that he was up to no good.

The tax agent, Ramin Salari, was also arrested and charged, along with Mark McNeil, an executive in the assessor’s office. It was one of the highest-profile public corruption cases in recent county history.

High profile, and now low profile. What gives? What is taking so long?!

Nearly four years later, the case has not made it to trial, or even to a preliminary hearing that would determine whether it goes to trial. The preliminary hearing has been postponed more than a dozen times and is now set for October.

WHAT?! A preliminary hearing is essential. Whatever happened to the Sixth Amendment, and a citizen's right to a speedy and public trial?

The lengthy delay has left some puzzled and others speculating that the case is going nowhere.

“I think the decision has been made that they’re just going to let him go,” said John Wong, a former member of the county’s assessment appeals board who ran against Noguez in 2010 and ran unsuccessfully to replace him in 2014. “I don’t see him being prosecuted at all. It’s just the way politics go in this county.”

No wonder more people are moving out of California, particularly Los Angeles County. Who wants to put up with outlandish corruption?

L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who was the most vocal critic of Noguez in the months leading up to his arrest, blamed a “bogged-down” court system for the delays.

“It’s a miscarriage of justice,” he said in an emailed statement.

Yet it is. An outrageous miscarriage of justice, in that the men and women of this county, who pay their taxes and follow the rules, watch one of the most corrupt and vile elected officials walk away with big payouts.

Officials with the district attorney’s office said they are committed to prosecuting the case and blamed the delays on the massive amount of evidence that had to be turned over to defense attorneys to review, and on the fact that both Noguez and Salari switched lawyers midway through the proceedings. That meant the new attorneys had to start over in reviewing the evidence.

Should there be some kind of law to prevent these dilatory tactics?

Prosecutor Craig Hum said the district attorney’s office had turned over more than 45,000 pages of evidence to the defense attorneys, along with recordings of interviews and thousands of pages of testimony before an investigative grand jury.

How longs does it take someone, anyone to go through 45,000 pages of anything? If a private firm was working on this case, shouldn't they have finished everything by now?

If Noguez had to switch from private to public, perhaps that means he's running out of money.

Our money!

“We have been in court — we have been moving forward with the case,” he said. “It’s just taking a little longer than usual, even for these types of cases.”

Does it really? What is the standard for comparison? Just asking.

The charges against Noguez and the others have also been amended several times. Noguez initially faced 24 counts of accepting bribes, misappropriation of public funds, conspiracy and perjury. In later complaints, the number of charges against him swelled to 36, but in the most recent amended complaint, filed earlier this month, it was reduced to 25.

Hum said some of the charges were consolidated and others were dropped because, after interviewing witnesses in preparation for the preliminary hearing, prosecutors decided those charges might be more problematic to prove than they had originally thought.

As to the remaining counts, he said, “I think that the evidence is certainly more than sufficient, or we wouldn’t have filed the charges.”

Noguez’s attorney, Charles Frisco, who took over the case 10 months ago when Noguez requested to switch from a private attorney to court-appointed counsel, pointed to the four complaints and large amount of evidence turned over at the request of the defense.

“Based upon what I have reviewed, as well as our own investigation, Mr. Noguez will be cleared of any wrongdoing,” he said in an emailed statement.

Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, said the lengthy delays could affect the outcome of the case.

“If the case is made on paper, it may not make much of a difference at all,” she said. “It does become more difficult if you’re going to rely on witness memories.”

Hum said he does not believe the prosecution will be harmed by the amount of time that has lapsed.

“In a case like this, it’s really not eyewitnesses describing what corner someone was standing on or something,” he said. “It’s almost all the documents.”

After his arrest, Noguez — whose birth name is Juan Renaldo Rodriguez — spent several months in jail before he was able to post bail with the help of supporters.

I wish that he had stayed there. So, he obviously did not have the money. Who was paying for the private attorneys, then?

He remained on paid leave from the assessor’s office for two years, while the case was pending, until his term in office expired. In December 2014, he was replaced by the current assessor, Jeff Prang, a former West Hollywood city councilman who had worked as a special assistant in the assessor’s office.

Get this, people. Noguez was still drawing a salary! We the People of Los Angeles were still paying his bills!

County supervisors said at the time that they couldn’t cut off Noguez’s paycheck. Elected officials in California generally can’t be removed from office unless they are convicted of a job-related crime or voted out in a recall.

Another reason to have the County Assessor appointed or removed entirely.

Gregg Rademacher, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Assn., said Noguez has withdrawn the money he had contributed to the county retirement system,  meaning he will not be eligible to collect the money contributed by the county, but also will not be subject to forfeiture proceedings if convicted of a felony.

Well, well, well. He gets any with more money, then. Have the county authorities seized his passport yet?

If convicted of all the charges against him, Noguez faces a potential 30-year prison sentence.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the case, Levenson said: “From the defendant’s perspective, every day you’re not convicted is a good day.”

And a bad day for the rest of us.

Final Reflection

When will the citizens of Los Angeles County see justice?

When will Noguez end up in jail?

Is this the new scam? Keep delaying the trial until the public stops paying attention, and then let him go?!

The people of Huntington Park had to deal with his corrupt leadership for years. And he is still running the show in HP, according to some reports.

It's time to expose this fraud. And it's time to hold the county of Los Angeles accountable of their deliberate delays on prosecuting him!

Here's more on the case, reported on NBC4.

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