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How a pot smuggler and car thief went from sharing a jail cell to transforming the American drug landscape

May 9, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
How a pot smuggler and car thief went from sharing a jail cell to transforming the American drug landscape

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George Jung is one of America’s most famous drug runners, particularly after he was immortalized in Johny Depp’s blockbuster motion picture film “Blow.”

However, in the early 1970s, he was merely a low-level drug smuggler; one who had just been sentenced to four years behind bars at a federal petitionary in Danbury, Connecticut, after he was caught with a car trunk full of marijuana in Chicago.

Danbury, in Jung’s terms, was a “mellow, laid-back minimum security facilty. But it was also a where “you could more or less learn anything you wanted to about illicit activities,” Jung said in an interview with PBS Frontline. “It was a school.”

At the time, Jung’s crime was small, and his sentence was short. But, in a decision that would forever change the drug landscape in the U.S., corrections officials placed Jung in a cell with Carlos Lehder, a Colombian-American who had been arrested for car theft.

“He was looking to transport cocaine out of Colombia and to sell it in the U.S., and there I was,” Jung told PBS. “It was like a marriage in heaven or hell in the end.”

George Jung after his release from prison in 2014 (Photo TMZ)

“George Jung knew how to import drugs by plane; Lehder had contacts in Colombia,” wrote Tom Wainwright, the former Mexico City bureau chief for The Economist, in his book, “Narconomics.” Cocaine was not a widely used drug in the U.S. at that point, Wainwright indicated, but “When Lehder and Jung were released from prison, they set about changing that forever.”

Once both men were released in 1976, Lehder sent a telegram to Jung at his parents’ home in Massachusetts, telling him to find two females and fly them to Antigua with Samsonite suitcases.

“They were naive to what was going on, and I told them that they’d be transferring cocaine, and at that time, not very many people in Massachusetts knew what the hell cocaine was,” Jung added.

The women came back to Boston with their drugs undetected, telling Jung they had so much fun that they were going to return the next day.

“So they went, and were successful both times,” Jung continued. “That was the beginning of the cocaine business for Carlos and myself.”

Johnny Depp portrayed George Jung in the blockbuster film “Blow”

Soon after, Jung joined Lehder in Canada, and the two of them found a pilot with links in the Bahamas.

“This was the first time we showed the Colombians that you could take cocaine and drop it into the U.S. via air and also there was a market there for it,” Jung noted, while also added that they made millions of dollars in a matter of days.

“Within a couple of years they were importing by the ton, hooking up with Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel to send planeloads of cocaine to the U.S. via Norman’s Cay, an island in the Bahamas they used as their base,” Wainwright stated.

Escobar was the leader of one of the most extensive drug empires the world has ever seen. At its peak in the 1980s, his cartel was distributing 80% of the cocaine in the world, transporting 15 tons into the U.S. every day. It’s believed that he was making as much as $420 million every week.

Mugshot shows Carlos Lehder Rivas one of the founding members of the Medellin drug cartel

George Jung and Lehder both became more involved in the cocaine enterprise, but they eventually parted ways.

Lehder, in Jung’s opinion, became more unstable.

“He wasn’t crazy… he had delusions. He loved John Lennon and Adolf Hitler. That should have been a sign for me,” Jung told the High Times.

After he had been forced out of his partnership with Lehder, Jung began working closely with Escobar, bringing the drug north. Jung even visited Escobar in Colombia, where he saw the Medellín cartel leader execute someone that betrayed him — after that, Escobar asked Jung what he wanted to eat.

Jung even visited Escobar in Colombia, where he saw the Medellín cartel leader execute someone that betrayed him — after that, Escobar asked Jung what he wanted to eat.

Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar in his infamous mugshot photo

Jung — who accumulated a fortune of close to $100millions at one point — was eventually apprehended in Florida. While in prison, authorities approached him to testify against Lehder.

He originally declined, but after news had emerged that Lehder had sent a letter to Vice President George H.W. Bush and offered to cooperate with the U.S. against the traffickers he and Jung had worked with, Jung changed his mind — after obtaining Escobar’s permission to do so.

George Jung was released in 2014, after completing 20 years. He has become one of the most renowned traffickers in U.S. history. But, according to Jung, he owes that reputation to his former business partner.

When asked by High Times if he would’ve gotten into the cocaine trade if he hadn’t met Lehder, Jung answered: “Never would have happened.”

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