FORT MYERS, Fla.- U.S. District Judge John E. Steele sentenced Epifanio H. Benitez, 61, yesterday to life in federal prison for selling heroin within 1,000 feet of Lee Middle School. The court also sentenced Benitez to a concurrent term of 15 years in prison for three counts of selling heroin, and one count of possessing ammunition as a convicted felon.
Based on his multiple prior drug convictions, Benitez was sentenced as an armed career criminal. Benitez pleaded guilty on March 4.
According to court documents, between May and November 2011, Benitez was involved in seven drug transactions with undercover law enforcement. He sold heroin on four occasions to undercover detectives from the Fort Myers Police Department. He sold heroin on three occasions to undercover detectives from the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Benitez sold the heroin within 1,000 feet of Lee Middle School during four of the transactions.
A subsequent search warrant was executed at Benitez’s residence, culminating in his arrest. Among the items seized during the execution of the search warrant were 46 rounds of .40 S&W ammunition found in Benitez’s bedroom. As a previously convicted felon, Benitez is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition under federal law.
This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Fort Myers Police Department, the Lee County Sheriff's Office, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey F. Michelland.
This is another case prosecuted as a part of the Department of Justice’s “Project Safe Neighborhoods” program - a nationwide, gun-violence reduction strategy. United States Attorney Robert E. O’Neill, along with Julie Torres, Special Agent In Charge, ATF Tampa Field Division, is coordinating the Project Safe Neighborhoods effort here in the Middle District of Florida in cooperation with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.