Judge gave teen who burned down SLO High computer lab a break. He may have just blown it

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.

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Jacquelyn Duffy sentences Michael Benadiba, one of three teens (at the time) charged in the aftermath of an arson fire at SLOHS computer lab in December 2016. David Middlecamp

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.

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