Judge denies HCCA execs’ request for seized items, search warrants

Dr. Benny Benzeevi, CEO of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates, speaks at the April 2017 Tulare Local Healthcare District Board of Directors meeting. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Executives with Tulare Regional Medical Center’s former management group won’t get personal devices seized in searches — or the warrants for those searches — just yet, a Tulare County judge ruled Tuesday.

Hon. John P. Bianco ruled that, at least for now, the District Attorney’s office could keep devices seized from the homes of Dr. Benny Benzeevi, Healthcare Conglomerate Associates’ (HCCA) Chief Executive Officer, and Alan Germany, HCCA’s former Chief Financial Officer.

His ruling came without prejudice, meaning their attorneys could try again.

Bianco normally handles family law cases, but he’s signed a majority of warrants in the Tulare County District Attorney’s ongoing investigation of HCCA and its conduct while managing Tulare Regional Medical Center.

Kevin Rooney, an attorney representing Germany, said that the case was an unusual one.

“This is not a case where the district attorney serves a warrant and charges follow or don’t,” Rooney said.

One of the first known warrants in the investigation was served in October 2017, when the office searched the Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine. HCCA also provided management services to the Lone Pine hospital.

The office has continued to serve warrants since that time.

Rooney said that his client wants his property back, and wants to know what the allegations against him are, so that he can address them.

 

Devices Under Lock and Key

Attorneys for Germany and Benzeevi state that multiple computers, tablets, and other electronics seized are purely personal and unrelated to the ongoing investigation into HCCA, such as devices seized that belonged to Benzeevi’s wife and daughter.

Previously, their attorneys had agreed that forensic images of the data on those electronics would be acceptable in place of the actual devices.

Forensic imaging would allow the district attorney’s office to make exact copies of the data on the seized devices under specific processes.

Bianco ultimately ruled that wasn’t enough to overcome concerns the office had regarding needing the specific devices to access data, and the potential for storage failures.

Deputy District Attorney Trevor Holly, appearing in court on behalf of the district attorney’s office, said that a process had been established for reviewing the contents of the seized devices.

Some of the devices seized were only able to be searched after a June stipulation between his office and the attorneys, he added.

He said that investigators would would work to determine what devices can be copied and potentially released.

 

Warrants Under Lock and Key, Too

The executives’ attorneys also asked that the contents of the warrants served on them, and the affidavits for those warrants, be made accessible to them.

It’s been nine months since the first warrant was signed and sealed, Bianco said, and the district attorney’s office still hasn’t filed any charges in the investigation.

Typically, warrants are sealed at the time they are signed, Assistant District Attorney Dave Alavezos said.

Three warrants were the subject of the hearing — out of many issued by the district attorney’s office:

  • Search Warrant 12929, a warrant authorizing the search of Benzeevi’s home, executed on April 4, 2018
  • Search Warrant 18SW0706, a warrant authorizing the search of Germany’s home in Arizona, executed on May 11, 2018
  • Search Warrant 12438, a warrant authorizing the search of Tulare Regional Medical Center

Bianco ultimately requested that the district attorney’s office prepare a sealed affidavit supporting its reasoning for keeping the warrants sealed; that affidavit would be subject a private review on September 18.

Attorneys from all parties would be able to provide the judge with points and authorities supporting each side’s position.

The Voice has previously published public documents relating to the search of Benzeevi’s house, including the statement of probable cause, search warrant inventory, signed warrant, and order sealing the warrant documents.

Reporters for the Voice have been denied access to documents relating to other searches, including the Lone Pine search.

 

Not Publicly Listed, Now Publicly Accessible

Reporters for the Visalia Times-Delta — and members of the public — were barred from attending a prior hearing on the matter on August 17, leading that newspaper to ask in a headline if Bianco had violated the Constitution.

A repeat of the same situation was averted Tuesday after both sides declined to file any paperwork to request the hearing be closed, Bianco said in court.

Alavezos, who attended the hearing, said he wasn’t aware why the public was denied access at the prior hearing.

Even with the public’s access restored, it wasn’t listed on the court’s online calendar or on the information display in front of Department 13, Bianco’s courtroom.

That’s likely because no case number has been assigned for the series of hearings.

Bianco was forced to read out his rulings on the two matters for the court reporter to transcribe, he said, since there wasn’t any case number to file them into.

Rooney later requested that Bianco find a way to assign one for the ease of all parties involved; Bianco responded that he’d discuss it with the Tulare County Superior Court administration, but added that the matter was “above [his] pay grade.”

The next hearing is scheduled for 2pm October 5 in Department 13 of the Tulare County Superior Court, 221 S. Mooney Blvd, Visalia.

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