Two major Tulare County storylines just intersected thanks to bombshell allegations aimed at Assemblyman Devon Mathis.
The allegations: that Mathis deliberately avoided investigating a failing public works project because he owed key stakeholders “a favor.”
The allegations were first reported by Dave Adalian at The Valley Voice.
The allegations stem from a Tulare County Grand Jury investigation into the near-decade-long construction of a new tower at Tulare Regional Medical Center has placed the district responsible for managing the hospital, Tulare Local Health Care District, in boiling hot water.
The report, released roughly two weeks ago, discusses the sheer incompetence of the district and its deliberate withholding of information from the its own Bond Oversight Committee over the expenditure of $85 million in funds.
The report and the Tower of Shame fallout, which has extensively been covered by The Valley Voice, put three characters front-and-center.
The first: Dr. Benny Benzeevi. Benzeevi is the CEO of Health Care Conglomerate Associates, the company that operates TRMC. In his role, Benzeevi is “tasked with completing the Tower Project,” The Valley Voice‘s Dave Adalian wrote.
The Grand Jury report trots out the failure of the project in spectacular fashion and places much of the blame for the failings and lack of oversight compliance on the shoulders of Benzeevi and the TLHCD Board.
Second: Assemblyman Devon Mathis. Mathis is nearing the end of his freshman term in the State Assembly, having pulled off the upset of 2014 by defeating Woodlake Mayor Rudy Mendoza. Mathis is an Army veteran, rising to the rank of sergeant before discharge, and served as a veterans advocate prior to his election.
Mathis, it should be noted, is facing Mendoza again. Two years removed from their historic election, two men have switched positions, as Mendoza is seen as the outsider and Mathis – backed by every member of the Assembly Republican Caucus – is the new insider.
Lastly: Alberto Aguilar. Alberto Aguilar is a retired postal worker and former Tulare County grand juror whose curiosity largely sparked the wide-ranging investigation into the Tower of Shame.
There are a litany of issues facing the Tower of Shame – exorbitant spending, the dissolution of the district’s Bond Oversight Committee, negligent cost projections, the district’s new bond seeking $35 million more than needed to complete the project, to name a few.
“Tulare Regional Medical Center has long been embroiled in controversy and its time to clear the air with taxpayers to regain the public trust,” Chris Telfer, president of the Tulare County Taxpayers Association said. “It’s vitally important to get these concerns addressed before any additional bond is voted on.”
Despite all the issues facing TRMC and the Tower of Shame, none stand more starkly than this:
Aguilar, who – with the help of a former TRMC chief executive officer – sorted through the minutiae of a multi-million construction project, sought out the firm figures on the Tower of Shame project through one very powerful vehicle: the California legislature.
The Valley Voice reported that Aguilar contacted Mathis requesting that the freshman legislator launch an audit via the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
Mathis refused the request and, according to Aguilar, made a glaring admission.
“(Mathis) said he wouldn’t do it because he owes Dr. Benzeevi a favor,” Aguilar told Valley Voice‘s Adalian. “Apparently, (Benzeevi)’s helping (Mathis) with a hospital in the Sierra.”
The hospital in question? The recently-shuttered Lone Pine Hospital, the lone facility of Southern Inyo Hospital District. The deal between Health Care Conglomerate Associates and Southern Inyo Hospital District is unique. The major deal points include Health Care Conglomerate Associates fronting initial operating capital via loans to Southern Inyo and providing the district with counsel to handle its Chapter 9 bankruptcy.
Ironically, the deal was heralded by Bishop-based KSRW as Benzeevi’s bet “on his own ability to duplicate the turn-around his firm made at Tulare Regional Medical Center.”
Additionally, Benzeevi’s company maxed out to Mathis’ reelection effort at the fundraising deadline for the fourth quarter of 2015.
The allegations of owing a favor to an embattled hospital chief come at perhaps the worst possible time for Mathis. The terrain for his Assembly seat is different than in 2014. Instead of a litany of candidates, there are only three: two Republicans (himself and Mendoza) and one Democrat (Ruben Macareno).
Bowing to favors owed to duck an audit into the Tower of Shame could prove to be valuable ammunition to Mendoza whose preferred end game would be to knock Mathis out in the primary and defeat Macareno in the November general election.