Benita Found Her Dream Man — But He Lied About Everything & Left Death In His Wake

Benita Alexander had no way of knowing that, by the end of her love story, her heart would be broken — and many of Paolo’s patients who received the “miracle” transplants would be dead.

February 15, 2018

Benita Alexander and Paolo Macchiarini [Investigation Discovery]

Benita Alexander and Paolo Macchiarini [Investigation Discovery]

By: Catherine Townsend

Benita Alexander thought that she was living a real-life fairy tale when she met her fiancé, Paolo Macchiarini. Paolo was a world-renowned surgeon who spoke six languages, mingled with the global elite, and resembled George Clooney. Any woman would swoon for such a catch!

But Benita, at the time an award-winning investigative news producer for NBC, had no way of knowing that, by the end of her love story, her heart would be broken — and many of Paolo's patients who received the "miracle" transplants would be dead.

Her global quest to find out the truth about the man who left her personal and professional life in shambles is documented in He Lied About Everything on Investigation Discovery.

Benita first met Paolo at the bar at Boston’s Mandarin Oriental hotel in February 2013, when she was helping coordinate an interview for an NBC special on regenerative medicine.

Paolo, a visiting researcher at the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, had shot to fame as the only doctor in the world who was able to use biological and synthetic scaffolds bathed in the patients' own stem cells for trachea transplants.

Alexander admits that, at the time, she was in a vulnerable place. Her ex-husband John was dying of cancer. She became close to Paolo as she opened her heart to him about how hard it was for her daughter, then nine years old, to lose her father.

Paolo grew close to Alexander's daughter [Investigation Discovery]

Paolo grew close to Alexander's daughter [Investigation Discovery]

He was incredibly charming, worldly smart, sophisticated, and seemed very gentle," Benita told CrimeFeed. "If I made a checklist of what I wanted a man to be, he had everything."

At first, they just connected as friends. But as time went on, she could not resist her connection to the dashing surgeon and she violated the number one rule of journalism: Never get involved with a person you're reporting on.

By June 2013, when Paolo took Benita to Venice, Italy, for a romantic weekend, she knew she was falling madly in love. This was the start of a whirlwind romance that included five-star hotels, travel to far-flung locations, and extravagant shopping sprees. Benita told CrimeFeed that Paolo always paid for everything and was "extremely generous." Her friends described him as "Mr. Big" from Sex and the City.

Paolo proposed to her on Christmas Day in 2013. The couple set a date: July 11, 2015. They planned to marry in the Catholic Church in Italy.

Benita was loyal to and supported Paolo when his professional life took a dark turn. In late 2014, four doctors in Sweden accused him of fraud, saying that he'd falsified data in six of the papers he had published. But Benita stood by her man and, she said, tried to help him through a tough time.

Paolo dropped another bomb when he told Benita that, despite the fact that both of them had been divorced, Pope Francis would officiate at their wedding. It sounded unbelievable, but Paolo explained to her that he had treated Pope John Paul II in the past, and had become part of a highly classified group of doctors that treated the global elite. He additionally claimed that former patients also included Bill and Hillary Clinton, and then–President Obama.

Benita Alexander and Paolo Macchiarini in Venice, Italy [Investigation Discovery]

Benita Alexander and Paolo Macchiarini in Venice, Italy [Investigation Discovery]

But some of Alexander's friends began to become suspicious. If the Pope was planning to marry two divorcees, surely it would be huge global news?

Benita was also growing concerned about the cost of the wedding. She had already spent $10,000 on engraved invitations made for a guest list that included the Obamas, the Clintons, Vladimir Putin, and Elton John.

On May 13, Alexander left her job. The very next day, she got an email from a friend that outlined the Pope's plans to visit South America on Benita and Paolo's wedding day.

She told CrimeFeed that, looking back, it seemed odd to her she had not met many of Paolo's close friends in Barcelona. But that, and the fact that he had multiple cell phones for different countries, she chalked up to his demanding job and constant international travel.

Benita was also growing increasingly concerned, because she had not yet been introduced to Paolo's children — or even seen where she was meant to live with him in Barcelona. Benita decided to get in touch with private investigator Frank Murphy.

She soon went into full-on investigative journalist mode, and learned that Paolo had, yup — lied about everything.

  • A White House source confirmed that Bill Clinton had never met Paolo.
  • The Vatican confirmed that he had never been the Pope's doctor.
  • A review of public records in Italy found that Paolo was never divorced from Emanuela Pecchia, his wife of nearly 30 years.
  • Even the jewelry he had given her was fake.

Benita traveled to Paolo's Barcelona home with two friends and a video camera. She was wearing a blonde wig, and her nervous laughter is audible on the video they shot.

Paolo was in the house, but he was not alone — after Benita's friends were asked to leave, they noticed a blonde woman coming out of the house, with two young children.

Benita Alexander with one of the custom-made gowns intended for her wedding [Investigation Discovery]

Benita Alexander with one of the custom-made gowns intended for her wedding [Investigation Discovery]

That's when, Benita said, it hit her: She had given up a good job and spent $50,000 on a "bogus fantasy wedding" to a man who already had at least two families. She would later discover that the woman in Barcelona had been living with Paolo for years, but that there were several other women in his life as well.

Back in New York, Benita found herself unable to stop thinking about Paolo's patients. "I started thinking that if this man is lying to me at such an egregious level, there’s no way he’s not doing this in his medical life," she told CrimeFeed. "I have to tell people. I have to expose him."

Seven of the eight patients Paolo inserted tracheas into have died.

In 2016, Vanity Fair published an expose on Paolo that uncovered even more damning evidence. According to the magazine, in 2012 he was charged in Italy with attempted aggravated fraud related to alleged efforts to persuade very ill patients to undergo radical surgery at facilities where he had privileges.

Vanity Fair also later discovered that several of Paolo's other statements were false, including his claims about having been an associate professor at the University of Pisa.

Swedish television broadcast a three-part exposé of Paolo's work called Experimenten, which argued that the artificial windpipes did more harm than good — and were actually rotting away inside his patients' bodies. The media began calling him "Dr. Frankenstein" and said that he committed "the world's biggest medical fraud."

Paolo stated in an interview with a TV station in Iceland that he has always acted in the patients' best interest, and believes that his procedures should be seen as successful. He was eventually dismissed from Karolinska.

In June 2016, the public prosecutor's office began investigating Paolo on suspicion of manslaughter and grievous bodily harm based on the material leading to the deaths of the three patients operated on in Sweden. But in October 2017, the attorney general's office announced that a crime could not be proven, because the patients might have died anyway.

Benita Alexander wearing a wig as she tracked down Paolo in Barcelona [Investigation Discovery]

Benita Alexander wearing a wig as she tracked down Paolo in Barcelona [Investigation Discovery]

In 2017, Paolo worked at a university in Russia, where he was given a federal grant for oesophagus research on primates, and operated on baboons rather than humans. The grant ended in spring 2017. He is still licensed to practice medicine in Europe.

Benita packed her bags again, and began to search for Paolo in order to face him once more — and their final confrontation is captured in He Lied About Everything.

Benita said that, if she can take any lessons away from what happened to her, she hopes that her experience will help others. "Maybe it happened because I am a journalist, and once I sort of woke up and put my journalist hat back on, I could expose him," she said.

Watch He Lied About Everything on ID GO now!

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