Dr. Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi will ask a Tulare County court on March 18 to reduce his $4.1m bail to zero, according to filings written by his attorneys. Separately, officials with the Tulare County District Attorney’s office moved to freeze bank accounts in his name in Israel.
In August of 2020, Benzeevi was charged with a litany of crimes relating to actions taken while managing Tulare Regional Medical Center; in December 2020, Benzeevi was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after voluntarily returning to the US from the Philippines.
Benzeevi managed the hospital through his company Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA), which was hired by the Tulare Local Healthcare District to manage Tulare Regional Medical Center.
Alan Germany, HCCA’s Chief Financial Officer, and Bruce Greene – a BakerHostetler attorney who simultaneously represented Benzeevi, HCCA, and the district – were also named in the felony complaint with Benzeevi.
The three were also arraigned again on Tuesday on the felony charges after the district attorney’s office updated their complaint against the former hospital officials.
Benzeevi wants in on zero bail
Benzeevi was the only one of the three forced to pay bail, his attorney states in a court filing.
“It is my understanding that the District Attorney’s office asked the Court to set bail at this extraordinary amount solely because Dr. Benzeevi was out of the country at the time that the District Attorney’s Office finally filed a criminal complaint, and the District Attorney’s office viewed him as a flight risk,” a declaration by his attorney McGregor Scott reads.
Court records show that Greene and Germany were both released without bail, and a press release from the District Attorney’s office in August 2020 stated that “the charges in this case are not exempt from the court imposed zero bail schedule.”
Given the differential, Scott writes in a filing, the $4.1m bail is “unequal … excessive, punitive, and wholly unnecessary,” since Benzeevi has shown he is “committed to fighting the District Attorney’s allegations” and “poses no threat to the community or the alleged victims in this case.”
According to the filings, Benzeevi currently resides in Southern California, and his bail was paid in full by a family member; if reduced, the bail funds would be returned to his family member.
Court documents and filings separately show a bail bond put up by Lucky Bail Bonds of Fresno and Allegheny Casualty Company of Calabasas.
“We will be opposing the motion to reduce bail,” Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos told the Valley Voice.
Benzeevi’s here to stay, attorney says
Benzeevi’s wife, children and siblings all live in California, and he has called the state home since he moved here at age 16, Scott’s declaration states that Benzeevi remained in Tulare County even after the Tulare hospital was searched in 2017 and after his home was searched in April 2018, “with the exception of a brief trip to Cambodia in December 2018.”
He traveled to the Philippines, “where he had lived with his family [when he was] a small child,” in March 2019 and traveled exclusively on his US passport, even renewing it.
After the charges were filed in 2020, Benzeevi began making arrangements to travel to the US, and was in regular communication with the district attorney’s office, his attorney wrote, but was concerned about the patchwork of international travel restrictions and statements by the district attorney’s office that his passport had been canceled.
“Dr. Benzeevi wanted to ensure that he would return to the United States directly and not be detained in a foreign country, particularly during the Coronavirus pandemic,” the filing states.
His US passport was surrendered at the embassy in Manila, Philippines, Scott wrote, and he returned home on a special passport issued by the embassy; his Israeli passport is locked in a safe at Scott’s law office.
Bank accounts identified for freezes
While Benzeevi fights for a reduced bail amount, two Israeli bank accounts belonging to him have been frozen by the district attorney’s office, according to court filings from February 15.
While all of his accounts at Bank Leumi were previously frozen with an order in September 2021, that order only specified a wire transfer number and not specific account numbers. The new freeze specifically calls out two accounts at Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv, Israel; it comes after the district attorney’s office had been in contact with Israeli and US Department of Justice officials.
“The People have been in contact with US DOJ and Israeli authorities who have confirmed the right bank account numbers. Israeli authorities have requested, through US DOJ, that we provide an order listing the actual bank account numbers,” the filing reads.
As supporting evidence, the district attorney’s office provided receipts from multiple transfers to and from the accounts, including:
- $1.8m in funds sent by the City of Tulare to an HCCA account at United Security Bank on February 19, 2019, which was payment for Tulare Local Healthcare District’s settlement with HCCA.
At the time the transfer was made, the city had extended a $9m line of credit to the district; the transfer was logged against the city’s loan to the district.
- $500,000 of those funds were sent the same day to an account at United Security Bank belonging to Benzeevi and his sister, Dikla Benzeevi
- $120,000 was unsuccessfully sent on March 5, 2019 from the joint Benzeevi account to Bank Leumi; the transfer was rejected and returned because the account number did not exist
- A month later, $250,000 was sent on April 23, 2019 from the joint Benzeevi account to the Israeli bank; Yorai Benzevi was listed as the beneficiary
- An additional $150,000 was sent from the joint Benzeevi account to the Israeli bank, with Yorai Benzeevi listed as the beneficiary
- Benzeevi later received $800,000 from a settlement with the Southern Inyo Healthcare District to a United Security account belonging to his Vi Healthcare Finance business
- $400,000 of those funds were sent three days later to an Israeli account with Dr. Benzeevi listed as the beneficiary
In a filing, the district attorney’s office called the activity “unusual and suspicious,” especially after Yorai Benzeevi knew he was under investigation and had previously been fighting asset seizures by the Tulare County District Attorney in 2018.
Officials from the DOJ agreed, according to the filing.
“On February 10, 2022, I participated in a telephone call with Emily Siedell, Department of Justice, Office of International Affairs,” Dwayne Johnson, an investigator aide with the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, wrote. “Ms. Siedell has been in contact with the Israeli Police and confirmed Yorai Benzeevi has had unusual bank activity through the [Bank Leumi].”
Arraigned under amended complaint
Additionally, all three defendants – Benzeevi, Germany and Greene – were arraigned on a “second amended complaint” on Tuesday. All three pleaded not guilty, as they had previously.
The district attorney’s office filed the amended complaint against the trio after their attorneys mounted a failed challenge, known as a demurrer, to have the charges tossed out of court, claiming the complaint was legally insufficient.
Their attorneys and the district attorney’s office exchanged filings for nearly a year before Tulare County Judge Michael Sheltzer ruled on the demurrer in November 2021.
He denied their attempt, but stated that the district attorney’s office “clearly [had] some areas where [they] could ‘clean up’ the pleadings in the complaint to provide more detailed notice,” and wrote that they should “amend each special allegation relating to Defendant Benzeevi to reflect that he has returned to the United States and on what date.”
Alavezos said that the updated complaint reflected the judge’s request.
“The judge ruled in our favor during the demurrer in each and every count. However, he did ask the people if we would voluntarily provide more detail in some of the charges. We agreed, the defendant agreed to not demur to the new complaint. This can be characterized as our office voluntarily providing more detail in the complaint,” Alavezos told the Voice.
At the same time the second amended complaint was filed, the district attorney’s office told the court they had reached a stipulation with attorneys for the trio: they would not file another demurrer against the second amended complaint, “in the interest of judicial economy,” prior to the filing of “an information, indictment, or a new [third] amended complaint.”
Some filings mentioned in this article are available through embeds. Others, including past documents the Voice has used in its reporting, are available on our HCCA Criminal Trial Dockets page.