Doctor’s Conviction Upheld In Overdose Death
A federal appeals court has rejected arguments by a former Vero Beach orthopedic surgeon who was sentenced to life in prison in the death of a Palm Beach County woman who overdosed on counterfeit oxycodone pills.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld the conviction of Johnny Clyde Benjamin Jr. on a series of charges related to producing and distributing counterfeit pills that included the substance furanyl fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.
Benjamin was arrested after an investigation into the Sept. 1, 2016 death of a 34-year-old Wellington woman who was found dead of an overdose in her apartment. The appeals-court ruling identified the woman only by the initials M.C., but the Palm Beach Post previously identified her as Margaret “Maggie” Crowley.
Two co-defendants, including one who supplied the pills to Crowley, provided information about Benjamin being the source of the drugs, the ruling said. When Benjamin was arrested in October 2017, federal drug agents searched his home, office and a storage unit and found items such as money counter and a scale that contained residue of furanyl fentanyl.
Benjamin was convicted in 2018 in federal court in South Florida on charges including conspiring to possess with intent to distribute furanyl fentanyl resulting in death; distributing furanyl fentanyl resulting in death; and conspiring to possess with intent to distribute hydrocodone and oxycodone, Friday’s ruling said.
The appeal, in part, contended that authorities did not prove that Benjamin produced the drugs that led to Crowley’s death. But Judge Stanley Marcus, in a 24-page ruling, wrote that prosecutors “introduced more than enough evidence to allow the jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the furanyl fentanyl distributed by Benjamin” caused the death.
Marcus pointed to evidence such as text messages on Crowley’s phone that linked the pills to Kevan Slater, who provided the drugs to her. Slater tied the pills to Zachary Stewart, who testified that Benjamin was the source, the ruling said. Slater and Stewart pleaded guilty to charges and cooperated with prosecutors.
“The government supported this with compelling circumstantial evidence, including the pill-manufacturing paraphernalia with traces of furanyl fentanyl found in Benjamin’s home and in his storage unit, and the extensive fentanyl-related search history discovered on his office computer,” Marcus wrote, in a ruling joined by Chief Judge Ed Carnes and Judge Robert Luck.
The Florida Board of Medicine issued an order revoking Benjamin’s license to practice in December 2018. An administrative complaint that led to the revocation said he operated Pro Spine Center in Vero Beach.
The complaint said Benjamin also had been accused of being involved in a marijuana grow house in Michigan. The complaint said law-enforcement officers on Oct. 19, 2016, found 198 cannabis plants inside the residence.