Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi — onetime CEO of the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) who fled the country to avoid prosecution for crimes allegedly committed while he held that office — has been arrested.
Beginning in 2014, Benzeevi, through his company Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA), took over operation of the TLHCD — including the Tulare Regional Medical Center — in a tenure that eventually saw the district file for bankruptcy and the hospital close. Now, Benzeevi and his alleged accomplices stand accused of what the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office describes as a series of criminal acts intended to steal the resources of the district. Benzeevi and HCCA were ousted in 2017.
The one-time CEO was arrested Thursday evening, December 3, at Los Angeles International Airport as he returned voluntarily from the Philippines.
Heavy Sentences Possible
After years of scandal, the various schemes involving Benzeevi, HCCA and the TLHCD began to unravel, and in August Benzeevi was formally charged by the DA’s office. Among the most prominent of his alleged crimes are misappropriation of government funds, theft, embezzlement and money laundering. He is also charged with “conflicts of interest” and failure to report his political spending, presumably related to Benzeevi’s attempts to influence the outcome of TLHCD board elections in 2016.
While Benzeevi could face as much as 40 years in state prison if convicted on all counts. If convicted of the most serious charge, money laundering, the DA’s office believes he will likely face a 13-year term. Benzeevi’s alleged co-conspirators–HCCA CFO Alan Germany and HCCA legal counsel Bruce Greene of the law firm BakerHostetler–will likely spend nine years behind bars each if convicted on the same charge, though their sentences could stretch to beyond a decade.
The Damage Done
The Tulare Regional Medical Center, the city’s only hospital, was eventually forced to close its doors, and the TLHCD sought protection from its creditors by filing bankruptcy.
“I’m not a vindictive person, but it’s nice people who did such evil things to our community–cost us almost $40 million–are going to have to face the consequences of their actions,” said Kevin Northcraft, president of the Tulare Local Health Care District Board of Trustees.
Tulare’s hospital eventually reopened under the management of Adventist Health.
Benzeevi, who has been released on $4 million bail and has had his passport revoked, will face arraignment on January 6. Germany and Greene will make their next court appearance on December 18.
The Arrest at LAX
Benzeevi, who has been living most recently in the Philippines, was taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport after voluntarily returning to the United States in what the DA’s office described as “self-deportation.” The DA’s office, coordinating with the FBI and State Department, were able to have Benzeevi’s US passport nullified. Benzeevi, who reported also holds Israeli citizenship, has no other passports, the DA said.
“I can’t get into any specific facts,” said DA spokesman Dave Alavezos in describing his office’s work with federal agencies and the revocation of Benzeevi’s passport. “Let’s just say that just had a lot to do with him ending up on a plane in Los Angeles.”
Benzeevi fled the US in 2019. Alavezos again was unable to confirm or deny specifics about his office’s investigation.
Upon his return to the US, Benzeevi was arrested by US Customs Officers before being remanded to the custody of DA officers. He was then transported to Tulare County, booked and released on bail. Alavezos said Benzeevi is no longer considered at risk of fleeing prosecution.
“He had to post a $4 million bail bond,” Alavezos said. “They require cash they can keep and assurances.”
The DA’s investigation of Benzeevi, Greene and Germany began in 2017, and the arrest of Benzeevi came after more than 13,000 hours of investigative time on a trail that led through most of California and into at least six other states.
No Cause to Rejoice
Those who dealt with Benzeevi on a day-to-day basis appear to have found him somewhat self-possessed and difficult to get along with, so while his arrest is not a cause of joy, it does provide some personal satisfaction, Northcraft said.
“(TLHCD Trustee) Mike (Jamaica) and I spent many months on the board listening to how dumb we were and how great he (Benzeevi) was,” Northcraft said. “I’m not celebrating per se, but it’s good a person is facing justice.”
The DA has already seized more than $900,000 from Benzeevi’s personal accounts, and if he is convicted some of that money might be returned.
“There may be some former employees who can hope for some restitution,” Northcraft said. “That’s a long way down the road, probably.”
Northcraft applauded the efforts of DA Tim Ward in pressing the investigation.
“The DA’s done a good job on this,” he said. “I hope he can keep doing a good job during the trial.”