The top target of Tulare County’s most expensive and complex corruption case has changed his plea.
Former Tulare hospital CEO, Dr. Benny Benzeevi, pleaded no contest to six felony and two misdemeanor counts on Friday.
The backstory: Benzeevi was charged with 40 felonies and six misdemeanors, including money laundering, embezzlement and theft, for his role in operating Tulare Regional Medical Center from 2014 to 2017.
- Former HCCA CFO Alan Germany agreed to a plea deal last December, which will keep him out of jail.
The big picture: Despite the change of plea on Friday, Benzeevi is unlikely to serve jail time.
- Instead, the former HCCA chief has to pay $2.4 million in restitution to the Tulare Local Healthcare District, serve 120 days of house detention, and complete community service and probation.
- The plea agreement does not require Benzeevi to admit guilt, but he could face at least five years in custody if he violates the terms of the agreement.
Behind the move: The Tulare County District Attorney’s office had initially estimated that Benzeevi may have been ordered to pay up to $20 million in restitution to the hospital district if convicted on all counts. However, he will only need to pay $2.4 million in restitution.
- Tulare County Superior Judge Michael Sheltzer decided not to impose jail time on Benzeevi so he can continue working and pay the restitution.
- It is unclear how this plea will affect Benzeevi’s medical license, which is valid through 2025 and based in Sherman Oaks, California.
What they’re saying: The Tulare Local Healthcare District President, Kevin Northcraft, expressed gratitude for the pursuit of justice by the district attorney’s office and stated that Benzeevi and his co-defendants have caused significant damage to the healthcare system in Tulare.
- The grassroots group Citizens for Hospital Accountability, which raised concerns about HCCA (Healthcare Conglomerate Associates) and led the recall election against HCCA supporters on the healthcare district board, described the plea hearing as “monumental” and celebrated the end of the corruption.
- “On this day, it isn’t just a saying that justice shall prevail, it is reality,” the Citizens for Hospital Accountability wrote. “There can be no celebration that any of this happened at all, but there is a celebration to know we have all helped to put an end to it.”
Next steps: Benzeevi’s co-defendant, former HCCA CFO Alan Germany, pleaded guilty to charges of conflict of interest and agreed to pay $150,000 in restitution, serve community service, and write an apology letter to the hospital district.
- The final defendant in the case, former HCCA attorney Bruce Greene, is expected to appear in court in May, facing charges of conflict of interest, grand theft, conspiracy, money laundering, and multiple counts of embezzlement by a public officer.