George Jung got his start as a small-time marijuana smuggler, but before long he was working with the biggest drug cartel the world had ever seen.
Colombia had Pablo Escobar. America had George Jung.
Few American drug dealers have ever had the connections, charisma, and influence that George Jung had. Over the course of his life, Jung made a living by smuggling drugs into the United States in mass quantities. Eventually, he joined the Medellin cartel and with them became responsible for 85 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the U.S. during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Before he made it big as a cocaine smuggler, George Jung was just an average, low-level drug dealer being hauled off to prison for being busted with a 660 pounds of marijuana.
While landing in prison is the last thing a criminal wants, for Jung it would turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. In a tiny cell in a correctional facility in Danbury, Conn., he would meet someone who would change his life forever.
In 1974, Jung got a new cellmate.
Carlos Lehder was a Colombian-American man who had been busted for stealing cars. In the midst of his carjacking schemes, he had gotten involved in the drug smuggling game and was looking for a way to transport cocaine from the cartels in Colombia to the dealers in the United States.
“It was like a match made in heaven,” Jung told PBS in an interview. “Or hell, in the end.”
Both of the men had been given relatively light sentences and were both released around the same time. When Lehder was let out, he contacted Jung, who had been staying at his parents’ house in Boston.
He told him to find two women and send them on a trip to Antigua with Samsonite suitcases. Jung found two women, who as Jung described, “were more or less naive to what was going on and I told them they’d be transferring cocaine, and really at that time, not very many people in Massachusetts knew what the hell cocaine was.”
To his surprise and his relief, the women were successful. Upon returning to Boston with the drugs, he sent them on another trip. Yet again, they returned with the drugs undetected.
“That was the beginning of the cocaine business for Carlos and myself,” he said.
And what a business it would become.
George Jung brought something to the table for the Colombians that they had never had before. As an American with smuggling connections in Canada, Jung arranged for a pilot to fly from Canada down to the Bahamas to pick up a shipment.
For the first time, the Medellin cartel realized that they could drop their drugs from the air, rather than using boats that were subject to search by the authorities. Within a few years, the market expanded and their American smuggling business was booming. The cartel was supplying 80 percent of the world’s cocaine and using Jung’s planes and a small island in the Bahamas to do it.
Jung was eventually forced out of his partnership with Lehder but it would prove not to be an issue. Lehder’s absence allowed for Jung to begin an even closer, more prosperous partnership with Pablo Escobar himself.
Jung soon found out life with Escobar was as crazy as expected. On one visit to Medellin, Escobar invited Jung to dinner after brutally executing a man in front of him. Before long, Jung was sitting on $100 million and was paying minimal taxes thanks to an offshore account in Panama.
However, during a birthday party at his house, Jung was arrested after the authorities found several pounds of cocaine in his possession. He soon after skipped bail and took a smuggling job with an old friend for some fast cash. Unfortunately, his pal was working with the DEA and busted Jung, who would later be sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Luckily for Jung, he was offered a deal if he testified against Lehder. Initially, he refused, feeling it might incriminate the Medellin Cartel, and knowing what would happen to him if he fell out of Pablo Escobar’s good graces.
However, when Lehder agreed to testify against the drug traffickers he and Jung had worked for, including Escobar, “El Patrón” himself reached out to Jung and encouraged him to testify against Lehder to undermine his credibility.
After testifying, George Jung served the duration of his 20-year sentence and was finally released in 2014. Since then, he’s been in and out of the drug trade, never quite able to shake the high that came with it. However, he’s apparently loving every minute of life.
In fact, a film about his life, Blow starring Johnny Depp, enabled him to make some paid promotional appearances after his release.
“Life’s a rodeo,” he said upon his release. “The only thing you have to do is stay in the saddle. And I’m back in the saddle again.”
Next, read about the rise of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel. Then read about Manuela Escobar, Pablo’s mysterious unseen daughter.