A longtime employee of Evolutions Fitness and Wellness Center – a gym owned by the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD) – has allegedly confessed to embezzling an undisclosed sum from her employers.
District Names Alleged Embezzler
District administrators confirmed the theft announcing the news via a general statement to the press. The document names Evolutions’ now-former business manager Passion Cardoza as the alleged embezzler. The statement claims Cardoza turned herself in to avoid possible discovery. Cardoza resigned her position.
A change in monitoring of district accounts likely led to Cardoza allegedly outing herself, according to the district’s statement.
“Changes in operational and financial practices implemented by new district management may have impacted the timing of Mrs. Cardoza’s September 12th resignation and admission to the district of the crime,” the statement said.
The alleged embezzlement went on for several years, the statement said. Cardoza has reportedly pledged to repay her former employers.
Evolutions executive director Jayne Presnell expressed sorrow upon discovering a “trusted colleague has been stealing from us,” according to the statement.
President of the TLHCD board Kevin Northcraft said revealing the full details of the incident was necessary to protect the district’s reputation.
“We are dedicated to distancing ourselves from the sins of prior district leadership and are clearly focused on strengthening the trust of our community,” he said, apparently referring to the alleged mismanagement of the district by its former administrative staff.
Three of those previously at the helm of the hospital – former CEO Dr. Yorai Benny Benzeevi, former district counsel Bruce Greene and former CFO Alan Germany – are facing a long list of felony charges related to their alleged illegal conduct while managing the TLHCD and its properties.
Tulare Police Investigating
The statement from the district did not make clear the Tulare Police Department (TPD) had been contacted regarding the alleged embezzlement. TLHCD CEO Randy Dodd said the TPD is conducting an investigation of the crime.
The omission brought at least one concerned comment from a district resident who appeared to fear the crime had not been reported to the authorities.
“That was not what was intended by communication at all,” Dodd said. “We did contact them initially.”
Dodd then clarified when the police were contacted.
“We said we had not contacted the police immediately, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t sure a crime had been committed,” he said.
Because of previous incidents, Dodd said, the district handled this case delicately to ensure accuracy.
“Previously, people have admitted to things they haven’t done,” he said. “We needed to validate.”
The district’s statement regarding the alleged embezzlement was issued on Wednesday, September 13. Dodd said the TPD was informed of the apparent crime three days later on September 16.
“We certainly didn’t want to leave them out of the loop,” he said. “We discovered by Sunday (September 16) that we had enough information that a theft had taken place.”
Dodd said detectives from the TPD made initial contact with district administrators on Wednesday, September 20, one week after the statement was issued.
Transparency Attempt Could Taint Jury Pool
The issuance of a statement naming an alleged criminal is an unusual step, and it could have repercussions if Cardoza lands in court.
Dodd echoed board president Northcraft’s statement about transparency in TLHCD operations and rebuilding trust with the community when explaining why the district issued a statement.
“We hope the community sees we’re trying to clear up some of the evils of the past,” he said.
However, according to civil rights attorney John Sarsfield, it could make prosecuting Cardoza more difficult if the case comes before a jury.
“If there’s been so much publicity in a local area, courts can determine after a hearing that it’s difficult to find a jury that isn’t familiar with the case,” he said. “Her attorney, if she is charged, would ask for a change of venue, I imagine.”
In similar cases, a bit of extra effort is required to find jurors who are unfamiliar with the details of the alleged crime, “if they’re being honest,” Sarsfield said.
Changes of venue are infrequent, he added.
“It’s rare,” Sarsfield said. “It does happen, usually when there’s heavy pretrial publicity.”
He said the district’s detailed announcement of the alleged crime caught him off guard, due to the complications it might introduce to the situation.
“I was surprised the hospital did that, actually,” Sarsfield said.
The district’s statement promised updates on the investigation as it progresses. Dodd, however, said that won’t be the case now that a police investigation is underway.
“The timeline will not be something we continue now that the Tulare Police Department is involved,” he said.