Drug-dealing doctor facing life in prison A federal magistrate was introduced to two sides of Dr. Johnny Benjamin six months ago as he contemplated whether the surgeon, facing felony criminal drug charges, should be granted pretrial release. There was the Vero Beach physician held in high esteem by his neighbors and peers, a respected community member with no children of his own who once offered to help pay for a high school valedictorian’s college education after hearing about her financial struggle. And then there was the debt-stricken doctor who abused his privilege and profession for personal and monetary gain. This man took advantage of America’s opioid addiction and supplied toxic painkillers to users on the street with little regard for human life. Benjamin had “guns galore” at his island home on Painted Bunting Lane, federal prosecutors alleged, as the doctor stood across the courtroom from them weeks after his Oct. 12 arrest wearing blue prison scrubs and shackles. A woman is dead because of this doctor’s poisonous trade, they said. He is too dangerous to be allowed to go home.
Judge denies “Stand Your Ground’ defense in brother killing VERO BEACH - A Circuit Court judge has denied immunity to a Vero Beach man accused of shooting his brother dead after a night of heavy drinking and brawling, despite a plea for relief under Florida’s revised ‘Stand Your Ground’ statue. The Hon. Cynthia Cox issued her ruling June 28, nearly a week after hearing expert testimony about the 2014 slaying. It was the second time Cox ruled that defendant Mark Deffendall’s actions were not excused by the defense. The 43-year-old, who was beaten bloody by his brother in their father’s airplane hangar just before the shooting, is being held at the Indian River County jail without bond. He has been charged with first-degree murder with a firearm. His case has yet to go to trial.
Shores officers save life of John’s Island Alzheimer’s patient VERO BEACH - A middle-of-the-night decision by two Indian River Shores Police Officers to go back to the shoreline and look again may have saved a missing John’s Island woman’s life. The Alzheimer’s patient had wandered away from her home on Coconut Palm Road around 11 p.m. last Saturday. Officers searched for her for hours without success. They brought out a helicopter and police dogs. They scanned the shoreline. They went to a property nearby she was known to frequent. Then, thankfully, they scanned the shoreline again – this time from the vantage point of a backyard deck, shining their flashlights inland toward the water’s bank. The woman, whose name is not being released, was standing waist deep in the canal hiding among the mangroves. It was almost 2 a.m. when police spotted her. She had been struggling to get out of the water, and when she heard the officers calling to her, she fell and went under.
Escrow agent convicted in Heaton hotel case WEST PALM BEACH - A federal jury last week found the lawyer who performed escrow work a decade ago for luxury condominium units at the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa guilty of conspiracy and bank fraud. Unlike hotel developer George Heaton and another co-defendant, Eric Granitur, 60, maintained his innocence and took his case to trial. He now faces up to 30 years in prison. Prosecutors alleged Granitur, Heaton and others lied to lenders about incentive programs, such as cash-to-close rebates, used to lure prospective buyers to the Ocean Drive development during the real-estate slow down. This gave banks a false impression of the viability of the project and allowed developers to secure the funds they needed to complete construction of Vero’s most luxurious hotel without proper scrutiny, argued Joseph Capone, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. The prosecutor specializes in real-estate fraud and travelled from Washington, D.C. to West Palm Beach for the trial.
Tipster says Burkeen’s co-workers knew the boss was stealing tires VERO BEACH - The day after retired Assistant Fire Chief Brian Burkeen was arrested for an alleged black-market tire sales scheme, Indian River County Commissioner Tim Zorc got an anonymous tip. While the community at-large might have been shocked to see Burkeen’s alleged fall from grace, those who worked alongside him knew what their boss was up to, but were too afraid to report him, the informant said. “There was a very real fear of retribution among the firefighters, so no one turned Burkeen in, though it was pretty widely known what he was doing,” the message states, according to e-mails obtained by Vero Beach 32963. “[The] County might want to institute some sort of anonymous tip line for waste and theft,” it said.