The Los Angeles County assessor’s office has given favorable treatment to connected taxpayers, allowing them to pay lower property taxes for years and costing the county millions of dollars in lost revenue, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by three employees.
Stephen Adamus, Yvonne Austin and Scott Woods say County Assessor Jeff Prang, his top managers and county lawyers have violated tax codes to benefit property owners with ties to elected officials by giving them favorable decisions on reassessments, the Los Angeles Times reported. The trio alleges the county has intentionally lost legal cases, reversed property tax decisions and reimbursed millions of dollars to individuals and corporations in back taxes.
In a lawsuit filed last Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, the three say they were “pressured to unlawfully change unfavorable tax decisions they made during a taxpayer’s reassessment.” When they did not go along with their bosses, they were punished and effectively turned into clerks, the suit states.
“This is the county’s dirty little secret when it comes to property taxes. It is one rule for the connected and another for the public,” said Greg Smith, a veteran labor lawyer representing the employees. “They threaten them, ostracized them, told them not to discuss the scheme on emails, and when they would not go along with the conspiracy, literally put one of them, a top manager, to work in a windowless room.”
Prang’s office said the lawsuit is without merit, calling the assessor a reformer who took over in 2014 in the aftermath of a scandal.
“Simply put: This lawsuit is groundless,” spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “It’s been filed by three disgruntled assessor employees alleging members of the assessor executive team and county counsel conspired to provide preferential treatment to connected taxpayers that resulted in millions of dollars in illegal tax refunds.
“We are certain that the claims will be found meritless once the facts of the case are presented. We want to emphasize that we do not retaliate against our employees, and we have taken great measures to prevent what happened in 2012 from ever reoccurring in the office.”
Allegations of corruption have long plagued the county assessor’s office. Criminal charges are still pending against former Assessor John Noguez, who in 2012 was accused of taking $185,000 in bribes from a tax consultant in exchange for a reduction in property values for clients.
Prang took over two years later. He previously was a special assistant in the office and a West Hollywood councilman.
According to the lawsuit, the assessor’s office has repeatedly reversed property tax decisions of connected owners, even when those residents have lost challenges with an assessment appeals board, a decision meant to be binding.
Court documents show several groups and individuals have received special treatment, including the Rand Corp., various apartment complex owners and property developers, and a San Marino property swap involving John Barger, the brother of County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
The suit states the assessor’s office used executive referrals from county supervisors or others that circumvented the usual system of determining a property’s value and its appropriate taxes. Upon receiving an executive referral, the three employees were told to drop all of their work and complete an “exclusion, exception and/or exemption with 10 days.”
Whitmore disputed that Tuesday.
“Executive referrals stopped in 2012 and [were] not replaced. We don’t do that anymore. It was scrubbed immediately after Noguez,” he said, according to the Times.
LOS ANGELES–Nine candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination will be in downtown Los Angeles today for a town hall discussion of issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
The “Power of Our Pride” discussion is sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and will be broadcast live by CNN from The Novo at L.A. Live. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is billed as the world’s largest LGBTQ-rights organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters.
The foundation is the HRC’s educational arm.
“Today, at a time when our most basic civil rights and democratic values are under attack, our work has never been more urgent,” HRC President Alphonso David said.
“We are eager to hear from this field of Democratic presidential candidates about how they plan to win full federal equality, defend the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people and protect the most vulnerable among us — both here in the United States and around the globe — from stigma, institutional inequality, discrimination and violence.”
The nine candidates will each appear for 30 minutes, taking audience questions in discussions moderated by CNN’s Dana Bash, Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, Don Lemon and Nia-Malika Henderson.
Scheduled to participate — in order of planned appearance beginning at 4:30 p.m. — are New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; California Sen. Kamala Harris; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; and businessman Tom Steyer.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was originally set to appear at the event, but had to cancel his appearance while he recovers from a heart attack.
According to CNN, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Andrew Yang both declined HRCF’s invitation, citing scheduling conflicts.
According to HRC, there are at least 10 million LGBTQ voters nationwide, and they cast ballots in higher numbers than the general population in 2018. HRC officials said LGBTQ voters case more than 7 million ballots that year, a roughly 70% turnout, compared to roughly 49% among the general population.
Thursday’s event will mark the second gathering of Democratic presidential hopefuls in downtown Los Angeles in less than a week. Biden, Warren, Harris, Castro, Booker, O’Rourke, Klobuchar and Buttigieg all spoke at a two-day “Unions for All” summit sponsored by the Service Employees International Union last Friday and Saturday.
Biden is also scheduled to conduct Los Angeles-area fundraisers Thursday before and after the debate. Buttiegieg is scheduled to attend a “grassroots event” at 6:30 p.m. at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Steyer will hold a town hall at St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Mar Vista from 5-7 p.m.
Klobuchar will participate in roundtable discussion on domestic violence at 10:30 a.m. Friday at UCLA.
COPENHAGEN–Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was elected yesterday as chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of the world’s largest cities committed to acting on climate change.
“When it comes to climate action, no one is doing more than cities, but no one is doing enough,” Garcetti said in a statement released by the mayor’s office. “We are entering a make-or-break decade for the preservation of our planet and environmental justice for every community, and I am proud to chair C40 cities at this critical moment. Together we will continue leading the drive to protect the world and promote a better, more equitable life for everyone living in it.”
The announcement was made on the first day of the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the group of more than 90 mayors formally declared a “Global Climate Emergency” and announced their support for a Global Green New Deal.
The coalition of mayors was joined at the summit by climate experts, advocates, business leaders and youth activists.
The Global Green New Deal includes four principles: the recognition of a climate emergency; a commitment to keeping global heating below the 1.5- degree-centigrade goal of the Paris Agreement; a promise to build more equitable economies and advance the cause of environmental justice; and a pledge to work with communities disproportionately affected by climate change and poverty.
Garcetti has served as the vice chair of the C40 Cities since April 2014.
“Under Mayor Garcetti’s leadership, Los Angeles has successfully reduced carbon pollution while also creating green jobs and strengthening the city’s economy,” said Michael Bloomberg, president of the C40 Board of Directors and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action.
Los Angeles has joined other cities in adopting C40 Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets, Advancing Towards Zero Waste and Net Zero Carbon Buildings declarations.
Garcetti is set to formally take office as Chair of C40 Cities on December 1st. The mayor has been in Denmark since October 5th and is planned to return to Los Angeles on Saturday.