Investigators looking into allegations of corruption in the office of the Los Angeles County Assessor are examining its dealings with Santa Monica-based Douglas Emmett Inc., a property owner whose chief executive, along with his wife, was the assessor's biggest campaign contributor, it was reported Tuesday.
In the years after the real estate bubble burst in 2008, the company's pleas for tax breaks on its portfolio of posh office buildings met with only modest success, the Los Angeles Times reported. Then in late 2010, John Noguez was elected Los Angeles County assessor.
Within months, Noguez's office slashed the taxable value of the company's properties by $307 million, four times what Douglas Emmett had received in the previous four years, according to a Times analysis of tax records. The county ended up refunding the company more than $4.5 million in 2011, The Times reported.
Douglas Emmett's tax bills were reduced an average of 27 percent per building while the average for everyone else was 16, the analysis found.
Company spokesman Steve Getzug told The Times that different "property owners may have pressed their cases to differing degrees with the assessor's office" and said the taxes on several Douglas Emmett properties should have been cut even more because they were bought just before "the precipitous decline" in commercial property values in 2008.
The tax breaks, however, have caught the attention of prosecutors pursuing allegations of corruption within the assessor's office, The Times reported. Additionally, David Demerjian, head of the district attorney's public corruption unit, told The Times his team is also looking into a tax break on the $21.5 million Pacific Palisades home of Douglas Emmett's chief executive, Jordan Kaplan.
The Kaplans contributed $10,000 to Noguez, more than any other individual donors, and Jordan Kaplan's parents and company executives gave an additional $20,000, The Times reported.
Noguez, who spent 19 months on the job, is on an indefinite paid leave of absence.