Investigators Sued in L.A. Assessor Scandal

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A man facing felony charges in the L.A. County Assessor’s Office corruption scandal claims in court that investigators lacked probable cause to arrest him, and that he “played no role whatsoever” in the fraud.
     Mark McNeil sued District Attorney Office investigators Seth Fogel, David Wolf and Ken Kladifko on Oct. 16 in a federal civil rights complaint. He alleges wrongful arrest and conspiracy to interfere with civil rights.
     McNeil, 56, was arrested at his home in West L.A. in October 2012 as part of an investigation that charged Assessor John Noguez with taking $185,000 in bribes from Arizona tax consultant Ramin Salari to reduce property values for Salari’s clients.
     Noguez took leave in 2012 but is still paid his $200,000 a year salary.
     The District Attorney’s Office says the scheme saved Salari’s client’s millions of dollars in property taxes.
     As Noguez’s chief appraiser, McNeil, a former Navy officer, was accused of recommending reductions on the assessed value of multiple properties at public hearings before the assessment appeals board.
     McNeil gave testimony at hearings on the value of the Old Spaghetti Factory, and properties in Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, Torrance and Los Angeles, prosecutors said.
     He was charged in 2012 with one count of conspiracy and 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer. He is being held on $1.16 million bond and awaits a preliminary hearing.
     If convicted, McNeil could spend up to 20 years and 8 months in prison, prosecutors said at the time of his arrest.
     Claiming he had nothing to do with public hearings or the assessment of the properties at issue, McNeil claims that in their desire to establish a link between Noguez and Salari, the investigators made up or omitted evidence to support a claim of probable cause.
     After combing through seven years of McNeil’s bank records, prosecutors found “no illicit payments from any source,” he says in the lawsuit.
     Fogel swore under oath that the criminal complaint against McNeil was accurate, though he knew that there was not enough evidence to support the charges against him, McNeil says in the complaint.
     “A cursory review of the evidence purportedly supporting the charges in the complaint demonstrates that this representation was without substance, and deceived the Superior Court that issued the arrest warrant,” the 17-page complaint states.
     McNeil says that to bring criminal charges against him, prosecutors relied on the statements of Scott Schenter, a county appraiser for 23 years, who left the office in 2011.
     In a separate criminal complaint, prosecutors charged Schenter with reducing the values of properties in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades by $172 million, in exchange for political contributions to Noguez.
     McNeil says that Schenter was a “critical cooperating witness” after Fogel and Wolf promised not to prosecute a charge of fraud concerning an $887,000,000 assessment value.
     “In his role as the key cooperating percipient witness to relevant events, however, he routinely lied and deceived the investigators throughout the investigation,” McNeil’s complaint says of Schenter.
     He claims that investigators “intentionally omitted or mischaracterized known facts critical to both Schenter’s credibility and veracity as an informant” to make the link between McNeil, Noguez and Salari.
     Investigators also leaned on a “false concept” of how properties are valued in L.A. County Assessor’s Office to support the criminal charges, McNeil claims.
     “Defendants sought the arrest of plaintiff based on either an intentional or reckless mischaracterization of what constitutes a criminal violation of assessment law,” the lawsuit states.
     McNeil, who says he expects to request a stay of his civil complaint until the criminal charges are resolved, seeks damages, a declaration that the investigators violated his civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and costs.
     He is represented by Ronald O. Kaye with Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt, of Pasadena.

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