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.
Few drug dealers have ever had the connections, charisma, and influence of American drug smuggler George Jung. Even fewer managed to escape death or life-long prison sentences the way “Boston George” has.
Although he started with marijuana, where Jung made his name is the cocaine trade.
Joining forces with Pablo Escobar’s infamous Medellin cartel, he became largely responsible for about 80 percent of all the cocaine smuggled into the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Jung bounced in and out of jail multiple times while achieving celebrity status thanks to the release of 2001’s Blow, where he was played by Johnny Depp.
He was finally released from jail in 2014 and now lives as a free man with no regrets. What makes George Jung so beloved with the American public? Here’s a closer look at one of America’s most famous drug smugglers.
George Jung was born on August 6, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts. The young Jung was known as 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 that he Jung 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.
Looking back at those days, Jung noted that “I felt that there was nothing wrong with what I was doing because I was supplying a product to people that wanted it and it was accepted.”
Expanding The Business
Soon enough, smuggling marijuana no longer a fun side gig but a serious source of income for Jung and his friends.
But he wanted more. The obvious solution was to cut out the middle man by buying the pot directly at its source: Mexico.
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 sold them marijuana for only $20 a kilo.
The idea was to fly the pot in a small plane directly from Point Damia in Peurto Vallarta to dry lake beds in Palm Springs, California. As an avid adrenaline junkie, Jung decided to do the first flight himself, despite having very little experience.
He ended up getting lost over the Pacific Ocean and was about 100 miles off course. Just as it was getting dark, Jung managed to find his way back and land the plane. After the thrilling, but ultimately frightening experience, he vowed to hire professional pilots.
Although the new business venture proved to be quite daunting — after flying the pot back to the States, they’d have to transport it in motor homes by driving for three days straight from California to Massachusetts — it was also very lucrative.
Jung estimates that he and his buddies made $50,000-100,000 each per month.
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 and ratted him out.
As he later recalled, the feds told him “We’re sorry, we really don’t want to bust pot people but this is tied into a heroin operation…”
A Life-Changing Meeting In Prison
While landing in prison is the last thing a criminal wants, for Jung it would turn out to be the best turn of events. In a tiny cell in a correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, he would meet someone who would change his life forever.
That man was his cellmate Carlos Lehder, a well-mannered Colombian who had been busted for stealing cars. Amid 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 United States.
At the time, Jung had no idea what cocaine was. But what he did learn from Lehder is that it sold for $4,000 – 5,000 per 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 of his encounter with the Colombian drug smuggler.
“It was like a match made in heaven,” George Jung told PBS in an interview. “Or hell, in the end.”
Move Over Marijuana, Hello Cocaine
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, 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 And The Medellin Cartel
George Jung, or “El Americano” as they called him, brought something to the table for the Colombians that they had never had before: aircraft. He arranged for a pilot to fly to the Bahamas to pick up shipments of cocaine and transport them to the United States.
Prior to this, cocaine could only be brought in suitcases or body packing — a far less efficient method with a higher likelihood of being caught.
Soon enough, the operation was making millions of dollars in a matter of days. This was the beginning of the infamous Medellin cartel.
As Jung would later learn the basic setup was this: Pablo Escobar provided the cocaine, Jung and Carlos transported it into the United States, and the Ochoa brothers handled political matters.
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.
Working with Escobar was as crazy as expected. On one visit to Medellin, Jung says Escobar excused himself and executed a man right in front of him. When he returned, he simply said the man had betrayed him and invited Jung to dinner.
This event was quite shocking for Jung, who never had any inclinations for violence. But there was no turning back at this point.
Things Come Crashing Down
Jung was sitting on $100 million and paying minimal taxes thanks to an offshore account in Panama. “I was on a road to self-destruction and I couldn’t turn the wheel to get off,” Jung later recalled.
George Jung was finally arrested in 1987 after the authorities found several pounds of cocaine in his possession.
Luckily for Jung, he was offered a deal if he testified against Lehder. Initially, he refused, feeling it might incriminate the Medellin Cartel with the knowledge 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, including Escobar, “El Patrón” himself reached out to Jung to encourage him to testify against Lehder to undermine his credibility.
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. Jung was finally released from prison in 2014. Today, he enjoys life as a free man who reportedly has 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.”
Next, read about the rise of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel. Then read about Manuela Escobar, Pablo’s mysterious unseen daughter.