It was "the Candy Man" who schooled two bad-boy rich kids in 2007 on how to make a fortune. His advice? Start a pain clinic.
The unnamed physician, nicknamed by cops for his large volume of pill prescriptions, launched Wellington twins Jeffrey and Christopher George, then 27, to start a pill mill empire that raked in $40 million in two years in Broward and Palm Beach counties, officials say. On Tuesday, the Georges and 31 co-conspirators were arrested on charges ranging from murder to racketeering to fraud.
The brothers had sold 20 million pain pills by the time police and federal agents shut down their four clinics in March 2010, prosecutors said in a 123-page indictment.
Each clinic made up to $50,000 a day. Employees carried the receipts to the bank in garbage bags. Their mother – who worked in a clinic and got arrested with her sons – kept about $4.5 million of their spare cash in two safes in the attic of her house on Primrose Lane in Wellington.
The George boys spent their riches on six-bedroom houses, a shopping plaza, four-figure Rolex and Patek Phillippe watches, boats and fast cars, such as Jeff George's yellow Lamborghini Murcielago.
Federal agents are moving to seize it all as well as $3.1 million left in their business accounts, but concede tens of millions are missing. Before their arrests, the twins had talked about stashing cash in Belize, the indictment says.
"They were swimming in money. Obscene," said one federal official who asked not to be named because he is involved in the case.
Money and death. Prosecutors said they traced 56 drug overdose deaths to George clinics.
Their chain of pain centers quickly became a blueprint that others copied to turn South Florida into a regional epicenter for the illicit trade in narcotic prescription drugs, prosecutors said.
The keys: Take only cash and credit cards to avoid state regulation of clinics that accept insurance. Cater to drug dealers from Kentucky and states with high rates of pain drug abuse. Sell each customer hundreds of pills a month. Pay doctors by the patient to encourage big volume.
Other clinics were following some of these tenets, but investigators say the Georges put them all together.
Before they met the Candy Man, the sons of prominent builder John Paul George had been in trouble. Jeff George was put on probation for dealing in stolen property, battery and resisting arrest with violence. Chris George was sentenced to eight months in jail in 2003 for possession with intent to deliver prescription drugs and steroids.
In 2006, Jeff George started selling steroids illegally via the Internet and muscle magazines through his South Beach Rejuvenation telemarketing firm, the indictment said.
He met the Candy Man and an unnamed clinic owner and learned about the profits to be made from selling pain pills, especially the cheap generic oxycodone, the indictment said. The brothers opened South Florida Pain Center in Wilton Manors in early 2008.
The center attacted throngs of rowdy, out-of-state addicts. The police began investigating. When the heat got too high, the Georges would move to different locations. At their peak, they had four clinics selling pills from West Palm Beach to Hallandale, officials say.
The Georges hired friends and family. The money was so great that employees could make $1,000 or more per week in "tips" from pill buyers eager to cut in line to see a doctor, the indictment said, and one clinic manager, Derik Nolan, made employees pay him a cut of the bribes to keep their jobs.
The brothers hired doctors through ads on Craig's List. On a wiretapped phone call, Chris George told a manager he had hired Jupiter physician Augusto Lizarazo, 70, even though he spoke with a heavy accent and had no experience with pain pills.
"You know what, people don't care as long as he's writing the scripts," Chris George said.
The doctors spent no more than a few minutes with each customer before writing prescriptions, the indictment said. The brothers gave them stamp pads so they could easily mark each script with identical dosages. They had staffers forge prescriptions so customers could get falsified MRIs to document their injuries.
To control the operation from top to bottom, officials said, the Georges set up one of their steroid telemarketers in a mobile MRI business that operated behind a strip club. It made $2 million.
Chris George financed two clinic staffers to start a pharmacy in Boca Raton and another in Orlando to fill their prescriptions and disguise the volume of pills being sold, the indictment said. Pills also financed two phony time-share companies that took $4.7 million from victims.
The brothers knew patients had died. In January 2010, the indictment said, Chris George complained on his cell phone to a
manager about a new patient who had overdosed.
"Now I got this lawful [sic] death lawsuit for a patient that [Dr.] Jacob [Dreszer] killed… This f---ing idiot came in one time and f---ing died. First visit," Chris George said. "He couldn't handle pain management."
In late 2009, two Tennessee women were killed and a man critically injured as they drove away from a George clinic in Fort Lauderdale. Their car was hit by a train and oxycodone pills were strewn all over the scene, leading Chris George to berate the victims during a cell phone call.
"You got to be an idiot to get hit by a train," he told a manager.
"They showed a callous disregard for their patients, including not caring whether they lived or died," said Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for South Florida.
Officials said the brothers used violence in their business.
They threatened operators of other clinics. They had staffers vandalize buildings and cars of competitors or people who opposed them.
The brothers and aides kidnapped and handcuffed a man they thought had stolen $50,000 from them, the indictment said. They threw him on the ground, and while trying to get him to talk, Jeff George fired a bullet next to his head, the indictment said.
When the indictment was released Tuesday, Chris George was in jail on charges of illegally having two shotguns and a handgun at his house in violation of his past felony conviction. He's being held without bond.
All those arrested this week are pleading not guilty and have not commented. In the past, the brothers' lawyers have said they were running a legitimate business for patients truly in pain, with commonly used dosages prescribed by licensed doctors.
"They made a profit," attorney James Eisenberg said last year. "They used that profit to buy a house. That's what we all do."
Authorities say this week's arrests on top of three other major busts, tougher state laws and continued police heat have slowed South Florida's pain clinics – but not stopped them.
"I think we're making significant advances," said Palm Beach State Attorney Michael McAuliffe. "I don't think we're quite to the end of the story yet."