Settlements have been offered to two of three defendants in the felony case against the former management team at the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD).
Defendants Greene, Germany Offered Plea Bargains
The offers were made to attorneys for Alan Germany, who served as chief financial officer for the company that managed the district – Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) – and Bruce Greene, who served as both counsel to the district and HCCA simultaneously. Details of the settlement offers are not public and were made during an in-chambers court session on September 13.
“We had extensive chambers conferences individually with defendants Greene and Germany, and offers were communicated,” said Judge Michael Sheltzer during a hearing. “Counsel needs to discuss those offers with their respective clients.”
Those discussions must be quick, as the offers are time-limited.
“We can’t keep these offers … open for a long length of time,” said Deputy District Attorney Trevor Holly at the same hearing. “They’ll expire Friday, not this Friday but next Friday.”
The defendants were to give their response to the DA’s settlement offers by Friday, September 22.
Holly said the settlements, if rejected, could be formally addressed during a hearing already scheduled for October 3.
“If the defendants reject the offers, we’re comfortable just coming back on the third and putting it on the record,” he said. “If they accept the offers, we need to schedule a court date.”
As of Thursday, September 21, no new hearing dates are listed on the Tulare County Superior Court’s calendar.
Repayment to Hospital Possible
Randy Dodd, current CEO of the TLHCD, said the district’s leadership is not privy to the terms of the settlements currently on offer.
“I actually don’t know anything about it, so I can’t tell you anything,” he said.
He said the district’s current legal counsel has discussed the case with the DA’s office, but could offer no further information.
Dodd, however, said restitution payments from the defendants is a possibility.
“That’s a potential,” he said.
At least one member of the TLHCD board of directors, speaking off the record, hoped any settlement would involve both restitution to the district and jail time for the defendants.
Board president Kevin Northcraft did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement offers.
State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Possible for Greene
A disciplinary hearing for Greene before the State Bar of California, which oversees the conduct of attorneys in the state and issues law licenses, is apparently a possibility.
Former TLHCD board member Senovia Gutierrez said she was contacted by investigating attorneys from the State Bar regarding her willingness to testify in any possible professional action against Greene.
“But I still don’t have a subpoena,” she said.
Gutierrez said she’s ready to give testimony about Greene’s conduct while working for HCCA and the TLHCD at the same time.
“I will be willing to cooperate with them and tell them what happened in court,” she said.
She feels Greene violated the trust of the people he was meant to advise.
“What they (Greene and co-defendants Germany and Dr. Yorai Benny Benzeevi) did on the board was very bad, and I’ll be able to talk about it,” Gutierrez said. “He (Greene) was serving two bosses. That’s a conflict of interest, clearly.”
The good intentions of the board members, she said, were subverted by Greene’s allegedly unethical actions.
“It affected our community, since the board believed in him,” Gutierrez said.
The people who live in the district – whose tax dollars were the target of the alleged fraud – will not soon forgive or forget the purported wrongdoing, she added.
“We will never forget what they did, what happened in our little town,” Gutierrez said.. “How they abused our community.”
Start of Trial Could be Delayed Again
During the same court session on September 12, whether Benzeevi’s defense attorney would be ready for trial by November was again a topic of discussion. DA Holly said his office is ready to proceed.
“We have to start sending out subpoenas around the 15th (of September), so I wanted to see if she could tell us whether or not she would be ready for the November (preliminary hearing),” he told Sheltzer.
Nina Marino, Benzeevi’s lead defense attorney, said she has yet to receive a witness list despite requesting one during a hearing last month.
“The reason the witness list isn’t there is because we haven’t finalized it for sending out of prelims,” Holly said. “We’ve been trying to chop it down. We’ll have it out Friday or Monday.”
Marino, who became Benzeevi’s attorney in June, said she is unsure she can be ready for trial by November 7, the current scheduled date of the preliminary hearing.
“It’s been my position all along that I don’t know if I can be ready in two months for a preliminary hearing of this magnitude,” she said. “My preference is this preliminary hearing take place in the spring. I understand that the District Attorney’s Office is opposed to that.”
The judge ordered Holly to send his witness list to Marino no later than Monday, September 18, in an effort to make it easier for Marino to gauge her readiness. A preliminary hearing for the trio of defendants has been set 16 times so far. All but the latest were eventually rescheduled.
Marino said she would make a good-faith effort to be ready by November 7.
“I think we should just leave that date,” she said. “Let me make a full-court effort to be ready, and if I run into problems I will certainly notify Mr. Holly and Your Honor.”
Agreement Reached in Benzeevi Finances
At least one matter was settled at the September 12 hearing. Marino and Holly have agreed to a modification of the order regarding oversight of Benzeevi’s finances.
Judge Sheltzer previously ordered Benzeevi’s former counsel to open a bank account to be held in trust for his client. Instead, Benzeevi opened a private bank account that he used without supervision. Unauthorized payments of several thousand dollars were recorded, including payments to the attorneys formerly representing Benzeevi.
During a hearing last month, Sheltzer ordered the parties to reach an agreement and present it to the court. He approved the agreement they presented last week.
In order to speed the process along, Sheltzer simply amended the proposal to an order during the hearing.
“You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to cross out ‘proposed’ on the submitted order,” he said. “I’m going to initial that, and I tell you what I’ll do is I’m simply going to initial on the signature page that the court has reviewed and indicating that I’m in agreement with the stipulation as set here.”
Attorneys for Greene, Germany and Benzeevi are scheduled to appear again before Sheltzer on October 3 for a hearing to confirm the November start date for the trial.