Judge denies motion to recuse Tim Ward in HCCA case

Judge Michael Sheltzer denies motion to recuse the entire office of the Tulare County District Attorney in case against three former healthcare executives in Tulare

VISALIA The Tulare County District Attorney’s office cleared a hurdle after judge Michael Sheltzer ruled there was no conflict of interest between Tim Ward and Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi in the case against HHCA.

On April 5, judge Sheltzer denied the motion to recuse the entire office of the Tulare County District Attorney (TCDA) in the case against three former healthcare executives, with Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA). In 2020, Benzeevi, Alan Germany and Bruce Green were arrested and charged with crimes related to conspiring to steal millions of dollars from two hospital districts. One being the Tulare Hospital District and the other was a hospital in Lone Pine, Calif.

After this denial of recusal, the district attorney’s office will continue to prosecute HCCA and the next hearing will be in Visalia on June 2.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling as we argued that no conflict to prosecute this case ever existed,” Stuart Anderson, TCDA public information officer said. “We look forward to proceeding with the case in early June.”

On Dec. 13, the attorneys for defendant Benzeevi submitted a motion to recuse District Attorney Tim Ward in the case against Beenzeevi, Germany and Green. In the motion for recusal, Benzeevi claimed the relationship between Ward and himself was more than passing acquaintances; that there was alleged political entanglement and that Ward had various alleged politically motivated post-compliant actions on the case. However, despite these claims, Sheltzer determined there to be no conflict.

In this case of People vs. Benzeevi, Sheltzer said in conclusion it is unlikely that impartial treatment would be given on the part of the TCDA office because of the relationship between Ward and Benzeevi.

“The true nature of the relationship between DA Ward and defendant Benzeevi is contested. However, an evidentiary hearing would be unlikely to give clarity to the issue beyond the evidence already considered,” Sheltzer stated in the conclusion.

In regards to Ward taking money from the defendant during his campaign for reelection, Sheltzer stated he agreed with the prosecution. The evidence supports the characterization as “candidate and campaign contributor” and nothing more.

“The defendant was not an active fundraiser for DA Ward and was merely a significant donor. There is no evidence to support any “closer” relationship than that,” Sheltzer stated in the conclusion. “It was a professional relationship that at the time benefited them both.”

Sheltzer closed by saying after reviewing all the disputed or undenied facts presented in the motion to recuse, he determined that an evidentiary hearing is not required or necessary. As a result of his determination, he stated the request for an evidentiary hearing was denied.

The preliminary hearing is set for June 2 at 8:30 a.m. with Sheltzer. Benzeevi will be represented by McGregor Scott with King & Spalding LLP. McGregor previously retired from his position as the U.S Attorney chief federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of California. Green will be represented by David Scheper and Jeffrey Steinfeld with Winston & Strawn. Germany will be represented by Kevin P Rooney with Hammerschmidt Law Corporation.

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