Two Florida brothers were responsible for running the largest illegal opioid distribution in America
By: April Carson
The American Pain clinic in Boca Raton, Florida is bustling with activity; a multitude of people crowded outside the facility, anticipating their turn. Inside, an armed doctor wearing a white coat greets each visitor and prescribes their pain medication.
American Pain provides both prescriptions and painkillers, making it the perfect one-stop shop. Before entering, a burly bouncer stands guard to ensure that patrons are not snorting their pills in the parking lot - an activity that would draw unwanted attention from law enforcement, something Chris and Jeff George (the clinic's twin owners) want to avoid at all costs.
Little did anyone know that the George brothers were responsible for running the largest illegal opioid distribution in American history.
Award-winning director Darren Foster's CNN Films documentary, “American Pain” chronicles the George brothers' meteoric rise and subsequent downfall as opioid kingpins. The film includes FBI wiretap recordings, undercover videos, and exclusive jailhouse interviews to construct a vivid portrait of their ruthless pain pill empire that made them millionaires while fueling addiction nationwide.
Retired FBI agent Kurt McKenzie declared that "the George brothers certainly exacerbated the opioid crisis”. His investigation – nicknamed Operation Oxy Alley – came to be after oxycodone purchased from their clinics was found at scenes connected with drug overdose incidents. Surveillance of clinic phones, secret videos, and undercover agents posing as patients were used during this probe to purchase drugs illegally.
The brother’s clinics were known to dispense a large number of painkillers and would even recruit people from homeless shelters with the promise of cash.
McKenzie exclaimed, "Their operation became the most significant street-level drug distribution team in all of America - no one ever supplied more drugs than they did! Unbelievably, it was done out in the open!"
The Disneyland of pain clinics
Chris and Jeff George jointly operated four pain clinics, as well as other associated businesses, in South Florida.
As the opioid epidemic grew exponentially between 2008 and 2010, when legal drug dealers were cashing in on prescription painkillers, federal officials noted that citizens nationwide slowly began to recognize the detrimental effects these drugs had on their communities. This was during the same timeframe as their operation.
McKenzie stated that thanks to this case, the public has become aware of how heroin and opioids are trafficked. He highlighted that The George brothers had created a blueprint for the insidious system before its exposure. The George brothers oversaw an international drug ring that included trafficking Mexican heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids into the US.
The brothers advertised the clinic in local newspapers and enticed doctors to issue high-volume, frequent prescriptions with attractive incentives. To steer clear of raising suspicion, they only accepted cash payments or credit cards - not insurance plans - as stated in court documents. Craigslist was where they found women who distributed the medications prescribed by these physicians.
The George brothers' clinics quickly became a popular destination for those seeking out drugs, with no need to book appointments ahead of time. People from Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia - states that were suffering immensely due to opioid addiction - made the journey down to Florida for help.
Between 2009 and 2011, the George brothers' clinics prescribed more than 3 million doses of opioids to patients. That's a staggering amount of drugs for two physicians operating out of only four small clinics in Florida.
Jeff George declares in the documentary, through a phone call from prison, that they had established a novel type of tourism. To be more precise, "We were like the Disneyland of pain clinics," he affirms with conviction.
FBI agent Jennifer Turner, upon being questioned by one man as to why he regularly visited the George brothers' pill mills, was given an all-too-sugary response: "It's like a candy store down there!"
As the brothers grew increasingly wealthier, they competed with each other to showcase their newfound wealth. They splurged on luxury watches, extravagant vehicles such as a Lamborghini, and an impressive customized monster truck respectively for Jeff George and Chris. In addition, boats and multiple homes became part of their portfolio of possessions.
Derik Nolan, a longtime companion of the twins who is referred to in the documentary as their closest aide, described the clinics as resembling frat houses. Customers had to wait for their next dose while clinic staff played with remote-controlled cars and shot each other using slingshots. According to Nolan's statements, there were beer and Patrón shots stocked up inside refrigerators at these places.
With cash registers far too tiny to hold the influx of bills, staff members hastily shoved money into colossal garbage bags. The brothers paid their workers in cash, operating and paying for the entire enterprise out of their own pockets.
Reaping Millions in Revenues
To create an illusion of legitimacy, one clinic reportedly sent their patients to a trailer situated behind a strip club; there they could receive lap dances while waiting for new scans from purported radiologists. According to an FBI agent mentioned in the film, this process had been set up by the George brothers to add credibility to their prescription system.
Court documents noted that the doctors failed to obtain any prior medical records, offered no alternative treatments, made no referrals to specialists, and prescribed controlled substances for nearly every patient - all without personalizing treatment as required by federal and Florida law.
With pride, Chris George boasted in the film that American Pain netted $40 million in profits. Startlingly, court records uncovered that American Pain prescribed a staggering 18 million units of oxycodone - making it one of the nation's leading buyers.
McKenzie, the former FBI agent, noted that out of all 20 highest-prescribing doctors in America, five worked at only one of Chris George's facilities. She highlighted that these were genuine physicians with real licenses and a reputable medical center attached to them. Chris was proud of his clinics' high prescription rates too.
Expressing his ambition from prison, he tells the filmmakers that becoming one of the top prescribing doctors in the country was an accomplishment he strove for. The George brothers' addiction to profit and power put the lives of innocent people in danger.
The Clinics Were Linked to Thousands of Deaths
In August 2011, tragedy struck when federal investigators raided the brothers' homes and discovered evidence of a slew of illegal weapons, drugs, and additional items. The federal probe claimed that the George brothers had distributed hundreds of thousands of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone pills to customers across the country, leading to thousands of deaths from overdoses.
During the raid, law enforcement officials also targeted Denice Haggerty's home - the mother of the twins and an employee at one of the pain clinics. The search yielded incredible results as several safes were uncovered in her attic with $4 million inside them.
The two brothers, alongside their mother and thirteen medical practitioners, were indicted under the RICO Act which targets corruption. All of them except for two pleaded guilty to charges such as money laundering or wire fraud that are related but not quite as severe.
The US government estimated that the two brothers had moved over $40 million in opioid drugs since 2011, with an approximate street value of $400 million.
In that same year, the twins' mother, Haggerty pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was handed a 30-month prison sentence.
In September 2021, Chris George was released from prison after serving 11 years of his 17-year sentence for racketeering conspiracy.
Jeff George accepted guilt on a charge of racketeering conspiracy and was imposed with a 15.5-year sentence due to his conviction of second-degree felony murder in the case involving the overdose death of one patient, as stated in court documents. An extra 20 years were added to his prison term because he received an additional sentence for that particular crime and remains incarcerated until the present day.
McKenzie reported that according to the FBI's review of 300 patient files stemming from the brothers' clinics, an estimated 3,000 people have tragically passed away due to overdoses. The thorough and precise analysis indicated a high rate of overdose among patients treated at these facilities. The brothers had also recruited and hired doctors who were willing to sign off on excessive prescriptions without conducting proper examinations, creating a cycle of addiction in their patients.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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