One of three men con­victed of ar­son is fac­ing new crime al­le­ga­tions

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY MATT FOUN­TAIN mfoun­[email protected]­bune­

De­spite catch­ing a break from pros­e­cu­tors and a judge last June, one of three young men con­victed of start­ing a fire that de­stroyed San Luis Obispo High School’s com­puter lab in 2016 is fac­ing pos­si­ble prison time af­ter al­legedly shoplifting from two San Luis Obispo busi­nesses.

Michael Gio­vanni Be­nadiba, who was sen­tenced last June to serve about five months in County Jail and com­plete five years of pro­ba­tion, was warned by Su­pe­rior Court Judge Jac­que­lyn Duffy at the hearing to re­frain from al­co­hol and stay out of trou­ble.

“You really have two paths you can go on,” Duffy told Be­nadiba June 14. “I en­cour­age you to choose the right one.”

But ac­cord­ing to the San Luis Obispo County District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, on April 8, Be­nadiba stole $162.85 in mer­chan­dise from the Cork n’ Bot­tle liquor store on four sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, as well as $467.06 in goods from Cal­i­for­nia Fresh Mar­ket in four sep­a­rate in­ci­dents.

His de­fense at­tor­ney, Earl Con­away III, could not be reached for comment late Thurs­day, but he pre­vi­ously told The Tribune that Be­nadiba faces up to three years in state prison if he doesn’t abide by his pro­ba­tion terms.

“Mr. Be­nadiba knows he has a lot rid­ing on this,” Con­away said at the hearing.

The District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice filed a com­plaint con­tain­ing eight mis­de­meanor charges for shoplifting on Wed­nes­day. The fil­ing does not say what Be­nadiba al­legedly stole. Some items were as cheap as $1.84, and the most ex­pen­sive was $222.84, the com­plaint states.

Be­nadiba, who turned 21 in Jan­uary, was one of a trio of for­mer San Luis Obispo High School stu­dents who started a fire in the school’s com­puter lab, caus­ing roughly $1.8 mil­lion in dam­age. Be­nadiba, Cameron Ross Bratcher, and Ja­cob Lee Ruth still owe resti­tu­tion in the case, ac­cord­ing to court records.

Be­nadiba pleaded no con­test May 17 to felony charges of reck­lessly caus­ing a structure fire and sec­ond-de­gree com­mer­cial bur­glary. Un­der the terms of his agree­ment, Be­nadiba was el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply to have his con­vic­tions re­duced to mis­de­meanors in three years. It is un­clear if he is con­victed of the new charges whether that re­mains an op­tion.

At an ar­raign­ment Thurs­day, Be­nadiba en­tered no plea, ac­cord­ing to court records, but was taken into Sher­iff’s Of­fice cus­tody with bail set at $5,000. As of late Thurs­day, how­ever, he was not listed in cus­tody.

Michael Be­nadiba

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