WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - If Jeff George was the mastermind of one of the largest illicit pill mills in the nation, his twin brother Chris was the kingpin.
From a 20,000-square-foot so-called pain clinic in Broward County, the Wellington man served roughly 500 addicts and drug dealers a day. To handle the volume, he kept five doctors on the payroll who earned roughly $1 million writing prescriptions for high-powered drugs the clients didn't need except to satisfy their cravings.
"Chris George is at the top of the hierarchy of this case," Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Schwartz told U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra on Friday.
Marra, who has already sentenced nearly two dozen of the 32 people charged as part of "Operation Oxy Alley," agreed.
Three weeks after he sent Jeff George to prison for 15 1/2 years, Marra slapped Chris George with a 17 1/2-year sentence.
"He's from what I can tell the most culpable and has the worst criminal record of anyone I have sentenced in this case," Marra said, as Chris George's wife, mother, father and - for the first time since they were charged - his twin brother looked on.
While Jeff George has remained out on bond since the indictments were unsealed in August and doesn't have to report to prison until April 27, Chris George has been in the Palm Beach County jail since October 2010 on a charge of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. He was convicted of drug possession in 2002 when he was busted for selling anabolic steroids.
The weapons charge, along with others he faced, were dismissed in October when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering in connection with the far-flung illegal prescription drug operation that netted roughly $40 million.
While about a dozen people wrote letters to Marra, urging leniency, only Chris George and lawyers addressed the judge during the 30-minute hearing.
When Jeff George was sentenced on Jan. 13, his lawyer said his client deserved a break because he had talked extensively with federal agents about the operation, leading to the arrests of his twin, his mother and his sister-in-law.
Chris George, who has also been cooperating with federal agents who are still investigating the massive ring, attempted to throw a life-line to both his mother, Denice Haggerty and his wife, Dianna Pavnick George, who will be sentenced next week.
He described both as caring people, who he lured into a life of crime. With his mother laid off from her job at her ex-husband's home-building company and his wife unable to find work, he said he offered them both jobs at the clinic.
"There weren't many chances out there and I made it easy for them," he said. Neither wanted the jobs. Of his wife, "I dragged her into this. She didn't want to work at a pain clinic."
Now, he said, in addition to facing prison time, she will have to raise their son, who was born while he was in jail, alone.
Pushing for a light sentence, his attorney, Fred Haddad, said George was drawn into the pill mill business as a result of the housing collapse. When his father's home-building business slowed, he was open to his brother's idea that they could make big money in the pill mill trade. George has cooperated with investigators, he said. "He deserves to be rewarded," he said.
Marra said the brothers, and most of the others sentenced in the case, will get their rewards when he considers reducing their sentences if they continue to cooperate with federal agents. They could have their prison terms cut in half.
While Jeff George got a lighter sentence than his brother from Marra, he also faces charges in state court. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with an overdose death and is awaiting sentencing.
Only four of the people charged in federal court are contesting their charges. Schwartz said he expects two more to plead guilty soon. Marra also sentenced three others connected with the pain clinic operation Friday.