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LA County gave breaks to 'connected' taxpayers: Whistleblower lawsuit

Property owners connected to elected officials got preferential treatment from the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office, a lawsuit alleges.

And three employees, Stephen Adamus, Yvonne Austin and Scott Woods, say when they didn’t go along, their bosses retaliated against them, according to the lawsuit, filed last Friday in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The three employees “basically had their careers destroyed because they were complaining that there was special treatment given to certain individuals and companies by the Los Angeles County assessor,” lawyer Gregory Smith told FOX Business.

The Los Angeles County Assessor's Office denied the allegations, calling the lawsuit "groundless," filed by "disgruntled" employees.

People who had connections with Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang or the county board of supervisors were able to get an executive referral to reverse decisions made by the tax appeals board, the trio allege.

“If you were, for instance, a friend of a county board of supervisor, you could ask that supervisor to fast-track whatever’s going on with you through this executive referral system,” Smith said.

The employees allege that they were pressured to change tax assessments for "connected" individuals, that companies and individuals got preferential treatment in exchange for campaign contributions, and that county lawyers intentionally lost cases on behalf of certain taxpayers. The decisions cost the county millions of dollars in tax revenue from 2013 to 2018, the lawsuit alleges.

But the county says it has not used executive referrals since 2012: "That process does not exist in the LA County Assessor's Office," spokesperson Steve Whitmore told FOX Business.

Prang, the assessor, arrived in 2014, but hasn’t changed the favorable treatment, Smith said. Prang's predecessor, John Noguez was arrested in 2012 on corruption and conspiracy charges and is still awaiting trial.

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“That’s one of the biggest complaints of the whistleblowers I represent, is that nothing has changed under the new assessor,” Smith said.

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The county says things have changed under Prang, that he came in and cleaned up the office after the 2012 scandal.

"Suffice it to say these allegations are completely unfounded and we are certain that the claims will be found meritless once the facts of the case are presented," Whitmore said. "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."

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