LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles County's elected tax assessor pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges he accepted some $180,000 in bribes from a consultant in exchange for arranging lower property taxes for the man's wealthy clients.
Assessor John Noguez, who was elected in 2010, was ordered at his arraignment to be held in jail unless he posts a $1.4 million bond. His lawyers will argue for a lower amount at a bail hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court next week.
The case has caused an uproar in Los Angeles politics and prompted county officials to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether the assessor's position should be appointed rather than elected.
Backers of the initiative say allowing the assessor to be elected invites influence peddling.
Noguez, 47, went on leave in June after it was revealed that he was under investigation, although he continues to collect his $192,000 yearly salary while the case proceeds because he still holds the office.
He was taken into custody at his Los Angeles area home on Wednesday. Also arrested were a top executive in his office, Mark McNeil, 54, and tax consultant Ramin Salari, 49.
Salari, who is accused of bribing Noguez to see that his clients' property values were lowered in an effort to reduce their property taxes, also pleaded not guilty during the hearing and was ordered held on $1.4 million bail.
Noguez, Salari and McNeil have denied wrongdoing and defense attorneys said they would contest the charges.
The criminal complaint accuses Salari of bribing Noguez and a former appraiser with the assessor's office, Scott Schenter, to seek a reduction in their property values. Schenter was arrested and charged in connection with the case in May.
Noguez, whose legal name is Juan Renaldo Rodriguez, is charged with two dozen criminal counts including 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer, five counts of perjury, four counts of accepting bribes and two counts of conspiracy.
Salari is charged with 13 counts of misappropriation, eight counts of bribing an executive officer and two counts of conspiracy. McNeil is charged with 13 counts of misappropriation by a public officer and one count of conspiracy.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jim Loney)