With the November 3 general election looming on the horizon and the 26th Assembly District seat up for grabs, incumbent Devon Mathis appears to be trying to polish his image regarding his relationship with the previous management of the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) and the city’s only hospital.
Wide-Ranging Criminal Conspiracy
The effort comes in the wake of the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office filing dozens of felony and misdemeanor criminal complaints last month against the district’s allegedly corrupt former management company Health Care Conglomerate Associates (HCCA).
After spending years refusing to aid efforts to remove HCCA from its position of authority over the district and its assets, Mathis is now showing a renewed interest in giving the appearance of helping the effort to restart construction of the stalled expansion project at Adventist Health Tulare, according to a TLHCD insider.
When approached by a member of the TLHCD Bond Oversight Committee in 2016 for help in obtaining a state audit of HCCA’s use of taxpayer funding intended for the tower’s construction, Mathis allegedly refused, stating he owed HCCA CEO Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi a favor. Mathis received $12,000 in campaign donations from Benzeevi and his associates up until 2018. Benzeevi has apparently fled to Israel, and an arrest warrant carrying a $4 million bond has been issued.
Nothing He Can Do
After learning a representative of State Senator Melissa Hurtado’s (D-Fresno) office would be delivering an update on the availability of state funding for the so-called Tower Project to the Tower Funds Committee–the body overseeing efforts to raise money for the tower’s ongoing construction–a Mathis staff member asked to also be allowed to participate. Mathis’ office has since requested a special meeting between the assemblyman and the committee on Friday, September 4.
However, with the State Assembly in recess since the end of August, it is unclear what Mathis hopes to accomplish between now and the date of the election.
“There’s no action he [Mathis] can take,” the insider said. “This is a gesture.”
The timing of Mathis’ request for a special meeting is also suspect, the insider said.
TLHCD Director Senovia Gutierrez has been putting out regular requests for aid in finding financing since April to several local officials, including Mathis. Mathis has only chosen to respond now after charges have been filed against former HCCA executives and attorneys with whom he worked and from whom he received large cash donations.
Beyond refusing to call for a state audit when HCCA was still in control of TLHCD’s assets, Mathis had other dealings with HCCA involving a second hospital in his assembly district. When the small Southern Inyo Healthcare District was seeking a management company to take over operations of its small hospital, Mathis recommended HCCA, according to his campaign manager’s statements at the time.
Mathis’ former chief of staff “received a phone call from Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley seeking help to keep the [Southern Inyo] hospital open,” a Times-Delta article from 2016 states. After Kingsley asked if someone could step in to manage the hospital, “HCCA was then contacted,” the article states.
When questioned recently about the $12,000 he received from individuals connected to HCCA, Mathis claimed in an interview with the Visalia Times-Delta published August 12 to have donated the money to the Tulare Hospital Foundation, a charitable organization whose works benefit the TLHCD. However, prior to last month, Mathis had donated only $4,000 to the foundation. Mathis’ office provided a copy of a check for a second donation in the amount of $10,000 dated August 11, the day before the publication of the Times-Delta article and near the time the interview regarding donations received from HCCA and Benzeevi was conducted.
Mathis told the Times-Delta he did not want to return the money while HCCA was still in control at the TLHCD. HCCA’s contract was terminated in 2017.