While in prison for smuggling 660 pounds of weed in 1974, "Boston George" Jung met Colombian drug trafficker Carlos Lehder. After they were released, they helped make Pablo Escobar the wealthiest drug lord in the world.
Few drug dealers have ever had the same level of connections, charisma, and influence as American drug smuggler George Jung. Even fewer have managed to escape death or life-long prison sentences the way “Boston George” has.
Joining forces with Pablo Escobar’s infamous Medellín Cartel, Jung became largely responsible for about 80 percent of all the cocaine smuggled into the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He bounced in and out of jail multiple times, rubbed shoulders with the most merciless names in drug trafficking, and all while achieving celebrity status thanks to the release of 2001’s Blow, where he was played by Johnny Depp.
Jung was last released from jail in 2014 and now lives as a free man with no regrets. Here’s a closer look at one of America’s most notorious drug smugglers.
How ‘Boston George’ Jung Got In The Game
George Jung was born on Aug. 6, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts. The young Jung was known to be a talented football player, although in his own words, he was a “screw up” when it came to academics.
After spending some time at college and discovering marijuana — the drug that defined the 1960s counterculture — Jung moved to Manhattan Beach, California. It was here where he first became embroiled in the world of drugs.
Things started out small: Jung would smoke marijuana and deal some of it to his friends. That was until a friend attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst visited Jung in California.
Jung learned that the marijuana he was buying for $60 a kilo in California cost a whopping $300 back East. This is how his first business idea materialized: buy the weed locally, then fly and sell it in Amherst.
“I felt that there was nothing wrong with what I was doing,” Jung later recalled, “because I was supplying a product to people that wanted it and it was accepted.”
Soon enough, smuggling marijuana became more than a fun side-gig. It was a serious source of income for Jung and his friends, but he wanted even more. To Jung, the obvious solution was to cut out the middle man by buying the pot directly from its source: the Mexican cartel.
So Jung and his associates traveled to Puerto Vallarta in hopes of finding a local connection. Weeks of searching proved fruitless, but on their last day there they encountered an American girl who brought them to the son of a Mexican general who then sold them marijuana for only $20 a kilo.
The idea now was to fly the pot in a small plane directly from Point Damia in Puerto Vallarta to dry lake beds in Palm Springs, California. As an adrenaline junkie, Jung decided to do the first flight himself, despite having very little flying experience.
He ended up getting lost over the Pacific Ocean and was about 100 miles off course, but just as it was getting dark, Jung managed to find his way back and land the plane. After the thrilling yet frightening experience, he vowed to hire professional pilots.
The new business venture proved to be daunting. After flying the drugs back to the States, Jung and his associates would transport it in motor homes by driving three days straight from California to Massachusetts. But the business was also very lucrative.
Jung estimates that he and his buddies made somewhere between $50,000 $100,000 every month.
A Life-Changing Meeting In Prison
But it wouldn’t last. In 1974, Jung got busted with 660 pounds of marijuana in Chicago after the man he was supposed to meet was arrested for heroin possession and ratted him out.
“We’re sorry,” the feds told him. “We really don’t want to bust pot people but this is tied into a heroin operation…”
But as it turned out, landing in prison would only open more doors for Jung.
Amid his carjacking schemes, Lehder had gotten involved in the drug smuggling game and was looking for a way to transport cocaine from the cartels in Colombia to the United States.
At the time, their meeting seemed too fortuitous to be true. Lehder needed transportation and Jung knew how to smuggle drugs by plane. And when Lehder told Jung that cocaine sold for $4,000-$5,000 a kilo in Colombia and $60,000 a kilo in the U.S., “Immediately bells started to go off and the cash register started ringing up in my head,” Jung recalled.
“It was like a match made in heaven,” George Jung told PBS in an interview. “Or hell, in the end.”
Both men had been given relatively light sentences and were released around the same time in 1975. When Lehder was released, 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 relief, the women were successful. Upon returning to Boston with the drugs, Jung sent them on another trip, and yet again, they returned with the drugs undetected.
“That was the beginning of the cocaine business for Carlos and myself,” Jung said. And what a business it would become.
Joining Pablo Escobar’s Cocaine Empire
To the Colombians, George Jung was “El Americano,” or “Boston George” Jung and he brought them something they never had before: an aircraft.
Previously, cocaine could only be brought in suitcases or body packing, a far less efficient method with a higher likelihood of being caught. But Jung arranged for a pilot to fly to the Bahamas to pick up shipments of cocaine and transport them to the U.S.
Soon enough, the operation was making millions of dollars in a matter of days. This was the beginning of the infamous Medellín Cartel.
As Jung would later learn, the notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar would provide the cocaine and Jung and Carlos would transport it into the United States. Jung helped to turn Pablo Escobar’s operation into an international success.
There was a routine to their smuggling operation. On a Friday night, a plane would fly from the Bahamas to Escobar’s ranch in Colombia and stay there overnight. On Saturday, the plane would return to the Bahamas. On Sunday afternoon, hidden among the herd of heavy air traffic departing the Caribbean for the mainland, a lone radar dot lost among all the other dots, the plane would remain unnoticed before it finally slipped down below radar detection and landed on the mainland.
By the late 1970s, the cartel was supplying about 80 percent of all of the cocaine in the United States — thanks to Jung’s planes and connections.
George Jung was eventually forced out of his partnership with Lehder, when Lehder felt he was familiar enough with the drug landscape in the U.S. that he didn’t need Jung’s help anymore. But this would prove not to be an issue for Jung. Lehder’s absence allowed Jung to forge an even closer partnership with Pablo Escobar himself.
Working with Escobar was as crazy as expected. On one visit to Medellín, Jung recalled how Escobar executed a man right in front of him; Escobar claimed that the man had betrayed him and then he casually invited Jung to dinner. On another occasion, Jung witnessed Escobar’s men throw someone from a hotel balcony.
These events shocked Jung, who never had any inclinations for violence. But there was no turning back now.
The Operation Unravels
By 1987, Jung was sitting on $100 million and paying minimal taxes thanks to an offshore account in Panama. He lived in a lavish mansion in Massachusetts, attended celebrity shindigs, and “had the most beautiful women.”
“Basically I was no different than a rock star or a movie star,” He recalled. “I was a coke star.”
But the glamor wasn’t to last. Jung was arrested later that year in his home after surveilling him for months. There was just enough cocaine in his home at that time to bust him.
An undercover cop who helped bust Jung had this to say about him:
“George is a personable guy. A funny guy. A nice guy. I’ve seen where he could get mean, but I never saw him become violent. You don’t feel bad he’s going to jail because he deserves to go to jail. You don’t have regrets, obviously, but you think to yourself, ‘You know, it’s too bad. Under a different situation, you might develop a friendly relationship. Under normal conditions, he probably would have been a good guy to know.'”
Jung tried to skip bail with his wife and one-year-old daughter, but was caught. Luckily, however, he was offered a deal if he testified against Lehder. Initially, Jung refused, afraid of 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, Pablo Escobar “El Patrón” himself reached out to Jung and encouraged him to testify against Lehder in order to undermine his credibility. Lehder was sentenced to 33 years and was released in June 2020.
Where Is George Jung Now?
After testifying, George Jung was released. However, he simply couldn’t stay away from the thrill of the drug business and took a smuggling job with an old friend. Unfortunately, that friend was working with the DEA.
Jung was busted again in 1995 and went to prison in 1997. Soon enough, he was approached by a Hollywood director to produce a movie about his life.
Released in 2001 with Johnny Depp in the titular role, Blow made Jung into a celebrity. He was finally released from prison in 2014, but was arrested for violating his parole in 2016.
Today he enjoys life as a free man with no regrets. “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.”
After learning about George Jung, read about Leo Sharp, the 87-year-old drug trafficker behind Clint Eastwood’s, ‘The Mule.’ Then, explore La Catedral, the luxury prison complex Pablo Escobar built for himself.