The 48-year-old Florida resident wept quietly in Fort Lauderdale federal court Tuesday as she was sentenced to 2½ years in jail, the Sun Sentinel reported, after admitting she helped her bodybuilder partner import and sell drugs from China, including the party drug GBL – known on the street as “liquid coma” – as well as the generic form of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
The former Palm Beach County special education teacher pleaded guilty last year to possessing illegal drugs with intent to distribute, after admitting that she and husband Emerson Benjoino, 42, ran a drug-dealing business from their home.
Palm Beach County sheriff’s officers arrested Emerson Benjoino after he picked up 3 liters of GBL that had been shipped from China to a UPS mailbox in Wellington.
Nicole Benjoino said she got involved in drug dealing to hold on to her younger “trophy” husband.
When cops searched the couple’s home in June, they uncovered $407,000 in cash, guns, a ledger of drug sales dating back a year, a supply of the deadly opioid fentanyl, pain pills and other drugs, authorities said.
They also found a note that read: “2 million and we are DONE!”
Prosecutors said there was no evidence the wife knew about the guns or opioids but said she was involved in other drug crimes, involving at least 24,000 generic Xanax pills and about 16 liters of GBL.
Arrested on June 14, 2017 Emerson Benjoino, a former bodybuilder, cleaned out his bank account and fled to his native Brazil after being released on bond five days later. His wife was arrested in October.
Her defense argued that Benjoino had started leading a double life because she was obsessed with a controlling husband, 6 years her junior, who preyed on her low self-esteem and lousy body image.
“She literally became obsessed with him and he seduced her into his conspiracy,” said defense attorney Donnie Murrell during sentencing Tuesday.
When the teacher divorced her first husband in 2002, she weighed 300 pounds, leading her to start an intensive dieting and exercise regimen, shedding almost half her weight, but leaving her with lingering body image issues, her lawyer said.
She met her new boy toy at the gym and“To this day, more than 14 years after they met and after years of marital turmoil, Nicole still gushes when describing him,” Murrell offered in his client’s defense.
Soon she found out that her new beau, Emerson Benjoino, used steroids mailed to him from Brazil and sold them to friends, authorities said.
He later started selling GBL, which the defense said is popular with bodybuilders and weightlifters because it reduces soreness and helps muscle recovery, according to the report.
Nicole was dating an attorney and seemed happy – until Emerson Benjoino walked into the gym and she dropped the lawyer “like a hot rock,” friends said.
The Brazilian native is a former competitive body builder who is 10 years younger than his wife. He was working as a bus boy at a local restaurant when they met, then briefly worked as a painter, records show. Before too long, they started dating, moved in together and married in 2009, that’s when Nicole Benjoino got sucked into his business, her defense said.
“Nicole Benjoino did not just wake up one day and decide to become part of a drug conspiracy … Little by little she was sucked into Emerson’s schemes … The illegal activity was something she participated in to remain with her ‘trophy husband,’” the defense wrote in court documents reviewed by the paper.
Drug dealer Emerson Deoliveira Benjoino fled the U.S. to his native Brazil where he was arrested on state charges. The investigation has become a federal case, in Brazil
Benjoino blamed her misconduct in part on an addiction to food, which she claimed was worse than a heroin addiction because “abstinence is not an option.”
“I’m imploring you to please consider my entire life book and not just this one unfortunate chapter,” Benjoino told the judge, without offering further explanation.
The judge said he accepted that she had done a lot of good in 25 years of teaching but weighed it against the serious drug offenses she’d participated in for many years.
The couple has a 10-year-old daughter who is currently living in Brazil with her father and his family.
As part of her plea agreement, Nicole Benjoino agreed to forfeit $407,000 in cash that was found in the home as well as her $130,000 interest in the house, which will be sold.
Her husband, Emerson Benjoino, has been declared a fugitive from justice after authorities said he fled to his native Brazil where he was arrested on state charges. The investigation later became a federal case.
Brazil does not extradite its citizens to the U.S.