Huff and puff and blow the drug-runner down

July 25, 1993|By Guy Powers | Guy Powers,Knight-Ridder News Service

BLOW

Bruce Porter

HarperCollins

320 pages, $20

In many ways, George Jung was the all-American boy. Big and strong, with a disarming smile, he excelled in baseball, football and throwing the discus in high school. His father's modest fuel-oil business provided the family with a solid middle-class life in the small town of Weymouth, Mass.

A push to improve his grades to get into a decent college was too little, too late. Not that he was dumb: Jung had a wealth of personal charm and native intelligence. He also enjoyed living on the edge and flaunting authority.

By 1965 he found himself traveling with a friend to California, settling in the small coastal town of Manhattan Beach, home to many beautiful stewardesses because of its proximity to Los Angeles International Airport.

Drugs were readily available in California, and given that it neighbors Mexico, there was plenty of marijuana. When Jung discovered he could unload it back east for a hefty profit, he began running mass quantities by commercial flights, in cars and in Winnebagos. The outlaw nature of the business appealed him. The money was very good.

But not enough. Jung decided to increase his profit by running airplanes to Mexico. On the return trip, the planes would land in dry creek beds on the United States side of the border, where they were met by trucks that moved out to distribution points east or in California. Quantity and profits soared. Then he got busted.

The Federal Correctional Institute at Danbury, Conn., is more like a junior college campus than a prison. Jung found himself sharing the years 1974-'75 with such luminaries as author Clifford Irving, former New York Jet Johnny Sample and G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame. Jung became close friends with a diminutive Colombian named Carlos Lehder, who was affiliated with the Medellin cartel.

When his sentence was up, Jung applied the same techniques he used for marijuana smuggling to cocaine, with the help of Lehder: planes, mass quantities, rapid distribution, enormous profits. During the next 15 years, he helped smuggle more than 80 percent of the cocaine used in the United States.

Jung estimates he made about $100 million before getting busted with 300 kilos of cocaine in Florida. Fancy cars, nice houses, servants, bundles of money stashed in heating ducts, a beautiful Colombian wife -- he had it all.

Today he has next to nothing . . . not even a family. In "Blow," former Newsweek writer Bruce Porter tells a powerful story that you have to keep reminding yourself isn't fiction.

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