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Former MMA columnist found guilty of federal drug charges

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A former MMA medical consultant/columnist may receive a life sentence for possessing and distributing opioids.

A former MMA media member has been found guilty of five drug charges by a jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Dr. Johnny Benjamin, most notably of MMAJunkie, was also found not guilty on weapons charges according to TCPalm.

Benjamin, 53, is an orthopedic surgeon who practiced at Pro Spine Center in Vero Beach. He had been featured on MMAJunkie.com since at least 2009. In addition to contributing his own articles, Benjamin was regularly interviewed in a column called “Ask the Fight Doc”. Benjamin’s most recent article for that outlet was published on May 22nd, 2017. In his recent articles Benjamin is listed as MMAJunkie’s medical columnist and consultant”.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had been investigating Benjamin since September 2016. This came after a woman died of an overdose due to furanylfentanyl-laced pills. After that death, the DEA used an informant, Zachary Stewart, to secretly film Benjamin conspiring to distribute the same pills that had caused the overdose.

During the trial, jurors watched the footage of Benjamin and Stewart outside of Pro Spine Center handling a bag containing 4,000 fake pills provide by the DEA. Stewart calls the drugs “blues”, which is code for counterfeit Oxycodone pills that are actually packed with fentanyl (an opioid that can be 50 times more powerful than heroin).

“It ain’t like the (expletive) we had through Kevan where the (expletive) girl croaked,” said Stewart in the video; according to TCPalm.

A day after the undercover taping, Benjamin was stopped at Melbourne-Orlando International Airport before he could board a flight to Philadelphia. He was found in possession of the counterfeit pills supplied by Stewart. He was arrested six days later.

Florida Department of Justice
Weapons found at Benjamin’s home.

Police then raided a storage space belonging to Benjamin. Inside they found a fentanyl-coated scale, several pill bottles, a large box of documents, and firearms. TCPalm reports that more than 20 firearms were also seized from Benjamin’s vehicle and home.

Stewart and Kevan Slater, another DEA informant, pleaded guilty and confessed to working with Benjamin to acquire and distribute synthetic opiods throughout 2016. They claimed they did this by obtaining phony prescriptions from Benjamin. The pair would then receive drugs from various pharmacies in Vero Beach and return them to Benjamin for later distribution.

Benjamin received his five guilty verdicts (stemming from seven drug charges) on April 27th. The guilty verdicts relate to charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute furanylfentanyl, possessing acetyl fentanyl with the intent to distribute, and possessing oxycodone with the intent to distribute.

He was found not guilty of possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking. The court determined that Benjamin’s extensive weapon collection were hobby items only and not connected to his criminal activities.

Benjamin now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. However, he may receive a life sentence and millions of dollars in fines when he is formerly sentenced in July.

“We are very happy with the jury’s verdict of guilty,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John McMillan, who prosecuted the case (per TCPalm). “A young woman’s life was lost due to the defendant misusing his talents as a physician, and such activity surely deserves a heavy punishment.”

Prior to being investigated for drug trafficking, Benjamin maintained a connection to combat sports and MMA media that went beyond his column on MMAJunkie. In 2009 he was profiled in an ESPN article titled ‘Meet Dr. Johnny Benjamin’. In 2013 Benjamin was also interviewed by Bloody Elbow.

In the 1990s Benjamin provided pre-fight medical services to boxers Antonio Tarver, Laila Ali, and Arturo Gatti (per ESPN). According to his signature on MMAJunkie, Benjamin was also a member of the Association of Boxing Commissions’ MMA Medical Subcommittee.

In recent years, deaths from opioid use have surged dramatically in the United States and Canada. The US National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that currently more than 115 people in the US die of opioid overdoses everyday.

If you or someone you know if affected by substance abuse, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It’s free, confidential, and open 24/7.

Provincial helplines in Canada can be found here via the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

There are a number of UK based helplines for drug and alcohol abuse. They are listed here by the National Health Service.

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