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George Jung the “Americano” revolutionised the cocaine trade and contributed to the rise of Pasco Escobar’s notorious Medellin cartel.
The 78-year-old, who passed away on Wednesday, May 5, got lost flying drugs over the Pacific, was jailed as part of a heroin investigation, and testified against a ruthless drug lord over the course of his criminal career.
Jung’s rollercoaster life story didn’t need much extra drama when it was turned into a movie – 2001 Johnny Depp crime drama Blow.
After receiving hospice care, Jung passed away with his wife Rhonda and friend Roger by his side in Boston, the US, TMZ reported.
A quote from the film was posted on his Twitter account, reading: "May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face, and the winds of destiny carry you aloft to dance with the stars. 1942-2021."
Jung was born on August 6, 1942. A sporty kid who struggled academically at school, he drifted into the Sixties counterculture around Manhattan Beach, California.
He financed his weed habit by dealing small amounts to friends, but when he was told by a friend who was studying in Massachusetts that the cannabis he was buying comparatively cheaply in California could fetch much more in New England, Jung had a brainwave.
“I had a large punch bowl of pot sitting on the table for anybody to use at their leisure,” he told PBS. “He asked me how much it was worth and I told him something like $60 (£45) per kilo.
“He told me that it sold for $300 (£230) back East in Amherst.
“The wheels began to turn and the next thing I knew we were purchasing the $60.00 kilos and transporting pot back to Amherst making a profit of approximately $200.00 on each one less the airline fare, what have you.
“At that time,” he said, “that was a lot of money.
He started by getting the marijuana from his usual supplier and persuading his air stewardess girlfriend to smuggle it across to Massachusetts in her suitcase.
But Jung quickly realised he could make more profit by going to the source and buying his product direct from the producers in Mexico.
On his first flight back to the States in a light plane, he lost his way and ended up dangerously lost.
“In the initial flight we got lost out over the Pacific and I knew I was somewhat 100 miles off my course and it was starting to get dark and I didn't have any instrument rating and paranoia set in," he recalled.
"So I turned to the East and finally found the mountain pass and luckily just before dark set in I arrived at the dry lake beds. It was a frightening trip.”
After that Jung vowed to only use professional pilots for his fast-growing business – often using private planes stolen from airfields around Cape Cod.
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Jung claims that at that time he and his crew were making $50,000-100,000 (£35,000-£71,000) each a month.
But then his life reached a turning point. One of his business contacts was busted for heroin. As part of a plea deal, the heroin dealer gave up Jung’s name.
While at that time the DEA were largely turning a blind eye to cannabis dealers, Jung recalls the officers telling him: “We’re sorry, we really don’t want to bust pot people but this is tied into a heroin operation…”
In March 1974, while jailed in Danbury, Connecticut, Jung had a fateful meeting. His cellmate, Carlos Lehder, told Jung about the enormous sums of money to be made in cocaine smuggling.
“Immediately,” Jung said, “bells started to go off and the cash register started ringing up in my head.”
He described the cocaine connection as “a match made in heaven… or hell, in the end.”
At the time, most of the coke being smuggled into the US was in suitcases or body packs. Jung decided to bring his experience in using light aircraft for cannabis smuggling to the cocaine business.
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It was the beginning of his association with drugs kingpin Pablo Escobar. He said: “The cash was generated in a matter of days, millions of dollars.
“So basically what happened is through the powers that be down in Colombia, and Carlos and myself, we formed a company. That was beginning of what is known as the cartel. The Medellin cartel.”
The late seventies saw a cocaine revolution in the US. Jung says people in Hollywood, the music industry and high finance were using the drug daily. “I mean Studio 54 in New York, everybody was snorting cocaine, everybody was laughing and having a good time and snorting cocaine,” said Jung.
“I don't think that the government of the United States had any idea what the hell was really happening until it was too late."
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Within a couple of years, Jung was earning $3 million to $5 million (£2.1m-£3.5m) per day. He was living a superstar lifestyle on the profits of smuggling: “I was a guy who had a lot of money and unlimited access to cocaine and even if I looked like Bela Lugosi I still had the most beautiful women on the planet because everybody at that time, especially women, were in love with cocaine and of course in love with the money.”
But of course there was a dark side – Jung describes one dinner party with Escobar where the drug lord excused himself, stepped away from the table to execute a suspected informer, and then sat back down to eat.
Carlos Lehder, who had become Jung’s partner in the multimillion-dollar racket, decided to cut his old cellmate out of the business. He started trafficking the drug directly to Jung’s connections in the US.
Jung said: "Carlos had the concept where he wanted to flood the country with cocaine and destroy the political and moral structure of the United States."
Jung’s own drug use started spiralling out of control. He was busted in 1987 with several pounds of cocaine in his possession.
With Pablo Escobar’s permission, Jung testified against his old cellmate Lehder – who was suspected of being ready himself to turn on Escobar.
After testifying, Jung was released. But by that time, all he knew was the drugs business and in 1995 agreed to smuggle a shipment with an old friend.
“Unbeknownst to me,” says Jung, “he was working for the DEA and he wined and dined me and I sold the load down in Colombia and it was all sponsored by the DEA and when the load came in I was busted and that was the end of it all."
It was then that he was approached by a Hollywood producer to make a movie about his life.
Jung was eventually released from jail in 2014.
“Life’s a rodeo,” he said after being freed. “The only thing you have to do is stay in the saddle. And I’m back in the saddle again.”
- Pablo Escobar
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