Los Angeles is known for high-profile celebrities and high-profile criminal prosecutions.
Currently, Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez is attracting more than his share of headlines and media attention.
Last week, he and a few others were arrested and charged with accepting more than one million dollars in bribes in exchange for agreeing to reduce tax property assessments for certain tax payers.
According to the prosecutors, Ramin Salari, a tax consultant, bribed Noguez on behalf of his wealthy clients. Prosecutors claim that this criminal conspiracy cost tax payers 1.16 million dollars.
As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that most people, including lawyers who are not familiar with the criminal justice system, don’t realize just how important the prosecution’s charges are in a case involving fraud or other financial crimes.
Most people believe that the presumption of innocence applies to this aspect of the charges. After all, the prosecutors haven’t proven that Noguez and Salari have done anything criminal, and they certainly haven’t proven the specific dollar amounts of the harm caused by this alleged crime.
In reality, however, the allegation that Noguez and Salari fraud caused $1.16 million in damages has two immediate practical consequences. First, the judge set bail for Noguez and Salari in the amount of $1.16 million. This is the amount they need to produce to get out of jail pending trial. Second, and perhaps more importantly, California forfeiture laws provide that the accused must show that the money they use to pay for bail wasn’t tainted by the allegedly criminal conduct. This leads to the following anomalous situation, as described by The Los Angeles Times:
Salari is a multimillionaire, court records show. But since he has to prove that the money he uses for his defense is not tainted by the alleged criminal conspiracy, his mother and sister are putting up their Encino homes as collateral for the bail, [according to Salari’s lawyer.]
Noguez isn’t as fortunate. According to his lawyer, Noguez doesn’t have the money to pay for bail. That is why since his arrest he has spent almost a week in jail.
This in turn makes it harder for Noguez or any person in his situation to fully defend himself. It may turn out that the prosecutors’ charges are exaggerated or totally erroneous. But at this stage of the proceedings, a good criminal defense lawyer focuses on getting his client out of jail on bail. The forfeiture laws complicate this process, which is another reason why it’s critical to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.