The Napa County grand jury filed court papers Thursday ordering the district attorney to initiate legal action against Assessor John Tuteur to recover what it says are about $20,000 in back taxes.
Tuteur learned of the action that afternoon.
“I am happy to have the State Board of Equalization or staff from an assessor’s office in any California county review the challenged assessment,” Tuteur said.
The challenged assessment was done by staff working independently and reviewed by the chief appraiser, Tuteur said. An Assessor’s Office procedure report said this method is used to ensure employee property assessments are done with integrity.
The issue involves property on Green Valley Road that John and Mary Tuteur leased for a cell tower site to Transmission Agency of Northern California from about 1992 through 2016, the court papers said. Cell tower rental income was to be capitalized for property tax assessments.
The Napa County assessor failed to capitalize the rental income correctly from 2008-2015 and the property was under-assessed, the court papers said. In 2016, the assessor discovered the error and attempted to correct the assessment for 2016.
But, the court papers said, the assessor failed to correct the error for 2008-2015. The grand jury says the Tuteurs may owe the county about $20,000 for those tax years, plus interest and any applicable penalties.
Alan Charles Dell’Ario, foreperson of the 2017-18 grand jury, didn’t elaborate while filing the two-page order in Napa County Superior Court. He said the issue came to the grand jury’s attention through a confidential complaint.
District Attorney Allison Haley couldn’t be reached for a comment on Thursday. County Public Information Officer Kristi Jourdan said the District Attorney’s Office contacted the California Attorney General’s Office to ensure transparency and avoid a possible conflict of interest. That means the Attorney General’s Office has taken the place of the county District Attorney’s Office in the matter.
The grand jury is using state Penal Code 932. This law says that, after investigating the books and accounts of county officials, a grand jury “may order” the district attorney to sue to recover money the grand jury deems owed to the county.
The Mendocino County grand jury issued such an order to that county’s district attorney in 2007 to initiate a lawsuit against a former county supervisor who supposedly owed a few thousand dollars in excess travel expenses. The district attorney declined to prosecute.
A 2009-10 Mendocino County grand jury report said the district attorney claimed to have prosecutorial discretion. The grand jury questioned that claim.
Tuteur served as Napa County supervisor between 1973 and 1980. He became assessor in 1987 and is running for reelection as assessor-recorder-county clerk on the June 5 ballot. He was unopposed as of Thursday, with the filing deadline on Friday.
Haley was appointed district attorney by the Napa County Board of Supervisors in late 2016 to succeed retiring District Attorney Gary Lieberstein. She is running for election on the June 5 ballot and was unopposed as of Thursday.
The grand jury operates under the authority of Napa County Superior Court and is to serve a watchdog role regarding local government. It is made up of 19 citizens who are selected annually by the court. Its usual function is to release annual reports on its various investigations and make recommendations to the county and its cities.
In December, the 2017-18 grand jury had a disagreement the county Board of Supervisors. It requested information from the county on whether the county had followed through on recommendations from past grand juries. The Board of Supervisors made the answers public at a meeting, prompting the grand jury to claim a violation of “investigative confidentiality.”