Appraiser Scott Schenter Accused of Wrongfully Cutting Property Roll by $108 Million; Many Breaks Went to Tax Agent Ramin Salari's Clients
|Embattled Assessor John Noguez|
Former appraiser Scott Schenter wrongfully lowered property values on 156 parcels, according to a spreadsheet prepared by the L.A. County Assessor's Office.
Schenter resigned last year and is now under investigation by the L.A. County district attorney's public integrity division. After his activity was uncovered, assessor's staffers went back over his work and increased the values of the parcels by a total of $108 million -- or an average of $691,000 per parcel.
Had the tax roll not been corrected, Schenter's alleged misbehavior would have cost the government about $1.2 million in improper tax breaks.
The spreadsheet, which is posted after the jump, also sheds some new light into a separate inquiry into Assessor John Noguez and his relationship with tax agent Ramin Salari.
Salari has been accused of using his relationship with Noguez to gain favorable treatment for his clients. Both Noguez and Salari have denied doing anything improper.
The spreadsheet shows that Salari's firm represented a large share of the parcels that were lowered by Schenter.
The firm, Assessment Appeals Services, handled about 1% of all requests for reduced valuations in 2010, according to data provided by the Assessor's Office. But of the 157 parcels whose values Schenter reduced, AAS represented 38 of them -- or 24%. Salari declined to comment on that ratio, and Schenter has not returned calls for comment.
However, Salari's clients received smaller reductions, on average, than those given to others. His clients saw their appraisals errantly reduced about $14 million in total, or $369,000 per parcel, on average. (Put another way, Salari's clients received 13% of the total reductions, though they represented 24% of the parcels.) That works out to a total tax break of about $154,000 -- not an especially large amount, as these things go -- of which Salari would have pocketed $77,000.
There could be an explanation for why Salari's firm represented such a large proportion of the parcels whose values were lowered by Schenter. Schenter worked in the Assessor's West District office, handling appraisals on apartments, condominiums and single-family homes. It is possible that Salari's firm specializes in those types of properties, and in that area of the county. However, Salari's company website -- which appears to be offline at the moment -- includes both residential and commercial parcels on its client list, and they appear to be spread throughout the county.
The Assessor's Office has emphasized that Schenter's alleged misbehavior occurred before Noguez took office last year. When it was discovered, it was reported to the district attorney's office. Schenter appears to have resigned in lieu of facing discipline. Louis Reyes, Noguez's spokesman, stressed that because the problem was caught, "there was no negative effect to our property roll."
As controversy continues to swirl around the Assessor's Office, former Chief of Staff Chris Carlos offered a brief explanation today for his resignation earlier this week.
"I resigned after four weeks as Chief of Staff because I believed Mr. Noguez' perspectives and my perspectives, with respect to organizational leadership philosophies, were not in sync and it was not the right fit," Carlos said via e-mail.
The Schenter spreadsheet is posted below, and constitutes a treasure trove of data, which we've merely scratched at here. Readers who are interested and have some spare time are encouraged to dive in and see if they turn up anything interesting.
By way of explanation, the first three pages show the original assessed values and the changes made by Schenter. The subsequent three pages show how Schenter's values were changed back by assessor's staff. In some cases, Schenter's decisions were simply reversed. In others, staffers set the value at a new "market price." And in cases where Schenter's values were within 5% of market values, the valuations were left alone.
Update, 2 p.m. Monday: The Schenter termination notice is posted below.
Update, 2 p.m. Monday: Below is the Assessor's letter of "intent to discharge" Scott Schenter, dated Jan. 28, 2011.
The letter alleges that Schenter made 80 value changes without approval from his supervisors. It also states that once that was discovered, Schenter told his supervisors that he made the changes upon requests from taxpayers and their representatives.
Schenter also stated that instead of sending those requests through proper channels, he went out on his own to look at properties and re-appraise them.
"You also admitted that you did not obtain your supervisor's approval because you know (XX) would not have approved them," the letter states.
The letter also states that Schenter was suspended for 30 days in 2009 for an ethics violation.
Schenter resigned before he could be fired, and the case was referred to the L.A. County district attorney's office in April. Schenter Termination Notice
First posted 6:45 p.m. Friday.