Benjamin Ernest Johnson, 39, was sentenced Nov. 8 to 204 months in prison, followed by a lifetime of supervised release and inclusion on the sex offender registry.
Johnson pleaded guilty to the charges in May. He was sentenced this month during a Nov. 8 sentencing hearing in Asheville.
According to filed court documents and this month’s sentencing hearing, Johnson was on active duty in February 2014, stationed in Asheville as a United States Navy Petty Officer First Class.
As such, his duties were to conduct recruiting of high school students in Western North Carolina.
Sometime in the fall of 2013, Johnson was assigned as a recruiter at a Buncombe County high school. There, he met his first victim, a 15-year-old female student who was enrolled in the school’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC). Court records indicate that Johnson began to communicate with the girl via instant messaging, and over the course of their exchanges he solicited and received sexually explicit images of the victim. Johnson also sent the minor sexually explicit images of himself.
According to court records, Johnson also solicited sexually explicit photos from a second child victim who he met in 2011 when the girl was a freshman in high school and a NJROTC student. He maintained a relationship with her until March 2014. According to court records, Johnson and the girl became friends on social media. He induced the girl to send him multiple sexually explicit images of herself via instant messaging and also sent her multiple sexually explicit images of himself. According to court records, the girl told authorities that she and Johnson had scheduled an upcoming trip to a military testing location and Johnson was going to use it as an opportunity to have physical contact with the victim.
“Johnson was a wolf among sheep, a predator who took advantage of his access to high school students and used his position of trust to sexually exploit impressionable young victims,” said Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina in a press release dated Nov. 9. “His conduct is not only a disgrace to all military personnel, it is also criminal. And for that, he will deservedly serve time in federal prison.”
Johnson has been in custody since May 11, 2016. He will be transferred to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons upon designation of a federal facility.
All federal sentences are served without the possibility of parole.