Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, whose office is the target of a corruption probe by the District Attorney's Office, announced today he was taking a leave of absence.
"In the interest of restoring public confidence in the professionalism, integrity and impartiality of the Assessor's Office, I intend to take a leave of absence from my duties as assessor," Noguez wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. "I do not take this decision lightly. I do this with the solemn hope that my leave of absence will allow the professionals at the Assessor's Office to continue to serve the taxpayers and citizens of this county."
Noguez, who was elected in November 2010, has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks over allegations that some property owners were receiving favorable tax assessments in exchange for political support.
A former appraiser with the Assessor's Office, Scott Schenter, was arrested last month and charged with slashing the values - and tax bills - of properties in Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades in exchange for donations to Noguez's campaign.
Schenter faces up to 33 years in prison if convicted.
District Attorney Steve Cooley said investigators believe Schenter's actions "are not isolated."
Cooley, who has called on Noguez to resign, said Noguez's action today was "a step in the right direction."
"Hopefully, this will help get the Assessor's Office back on track," Cooley said. "It will have no impact on the criminal investigation being conducted by this office. The investigation is ongoing, multi-faceted and active."
County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky wrote in a statement sent to Patch that "Assessor Noguez's decision to step aside allows for a new person to come in and restore order and integrity to an office that is currently shrouded in a cloud of uncertainty. His decision is in the best interest of the County, the Assessor's Office, and the taxpayers."
Supervisor Don Knabe said he was "pleased" with Noguez's decision.
"While this investigation is under way, it is critical that stability is maintained for the Assessor's Office and operations," Knabe said.
Schenter, 49, is due back in court next week. He worked for the Assessor's Office from 1988 to 2011. Prosecutors contend he devalued properties by about $172 million in exchange for campaign contributions.
In his letter to the Board of Supervisors, Noguez said the chief deputy assessor would manage the office in his absence, although that position is vacant. The board is expected to discuss the vacancy on Wednesday.
He also said his leave would "allow me to address certain personal medical and bereavement issues."
He wrote that he was cooperating with the district attorney's investigation.
"My interest has been, and continues to be, the health and well-being of the office, which I am proud to have served for over 27 years," he wrote.