Chris and Jeff George drove flashy cars, amassed property and made multi-million-dollar deals, radiating wealth and success while clients of their pain clinics got high and, in some cases, died.
Supporting the twin brothers’ lavish lifestyle was a stream of dirty cash from drug traffickers who routed painkillers to Kentucky, Ohio and South Carolina, federal prosecutors allege in documents filed in U.S. District Court.
So successful were their ventures that Chris George piled up about $40 million in assets, money he wanted laundered in 2009, prosecutors said. One night last year, they added, an employee of American Pain left the business carrying $50,000 cash in a backpack, the proceeds from a single day’s sales.
By that point, the 29-year-old twins had evolved from brash, rambunctious sons of a prominent Florida home builder into the masterminds behind some of the most brazen and flagrant pain clinics in South Florida.
As they made their way in the pain management industry, the twins, who often were at odds with one another, did business with a colorful cast of characters — including the investor ex-husband of a notorious Palm Beach socialite and a captain of the Colombo crime family, state and county records show.
The FBI and IRS, along with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and other law-enforcement agencies, spent the past 14 months investigating allegations that the George brothers illegally sold drugs and laundered money, prosecutors said.
Although federal agents on Wednesday raided three of their clinics in Palm Beach County, the brothers on Saturday had yet to be charged with a crime. They hired high-powered West Palm Beach attorney James Eisenberg.
That the twins, who each have criminal records but no medical background, were able to open pain clinics in the first place highlights gaping loopholes in Florida law.
Authorities say an utter lack of regulation has turned the Sunshine State into a fantasy land for junkies and drug dealers from Key West to Knoxville, Tenn., and beyond.
The result has been a multimillion-dollar cash bonanza for crooked clinic owners and doctors who write prescriptions with assembly-line efficiency, according to investigators.
In response, Gov. Charlie Crist last year signed a bill that allows the government to create a database to monitor prescriptions for powerful and addictive drugs like oxycodone and Xanax.
This year, state lawmakers including Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, and Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, filed bills that would target clinic operators and doctors who are getting rich selling drugs to all comers. Investigators say these operators are making bank.
A single clinic run by the George twins — records show they opened at least five in South Florida since 2008 — netted more than $14 million last year alone, prosecutors said.
As many as 250 people a day streamed in to see five doctors who were paid based on how many patients they treated, prosecutors said. They said one physician, Cynthia Cadet, earned as much as $44,850 a week working at American Pain, a cash-only operation, in 2009.
Each of the five doctors ordered roughly half a million oxycodone tablets last year, prosecutors said.
Despite being named in a federal complaint, each physician still holds a clear and active license to practice medicine in Florida, records show.
The doctors walked away with only a fraction of the total haul, prosecutors said.
At Chris George’s house in Wellington’s upscale Talavera neighborhood, security cameras scanned the grounds. Inside, walls were hung with jumbo TVs. The place reminded one deputy who searched it Wednesday of a set in the movie Scarface.
Jeff George spent his money on expensive toys, splurging on boats and a monster truck he used to antagonize his neighbors. He would weave in and out of traffic on Okeechobee Boulevard in his pearl metallic yellow Lamborghini Murcielago, on the lookout for upstart clinics encroaching on his territory.
When West Palm Medical Center opened in January, despite a pain clinic moratorium enacted by county commissioners a month earlier, Jeff George called code enforcement officers and got the new business shut down, at least temporarily.
Sons of prominent builder John Paul George, the George brothers have operated at the edge of the law for years, sheriff’s investigators said.
In 2002, when demand for black market steroids was soaring, a sheriff’s agent caught Chris George picking up a package of the illegal supplements ordered from Mexico. He eventually pleaded guilty to a felony drug possession charge.
Years later, he ventured into the pain clinic business, where his felony conviction was no obstacle. No state agency regulated the cash-only businesses, and no laws prevented non-doctors from opening medical offices, hiring physicians and then selling highly addictive painkillers by the fistful.
By 2008, the brothers were running pain management centers in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Between setting up clinics, Jeff George branched in other directions.
In early 2008, he planned to open a massage parlor in West Palm Beach when a broker introduced him to investor Harald Dude, said Dude’s attorney, Marshall Rosenbach.
Dude, husband of Roxanne Pulitzer until the couple divorced in 2001, was embroiled in an ugly legal battle over a West Palm Beach strip club, and he jumped at the chance to lease space to the young businessman.
Fighting Dude for ownership of Dreamgirls, formerly Club Diamonds, was Thomas Farese, a captain in the Colombo crime family. Farese was convicted in 1998 of using the club to launder money. He’s been wrangling over the North Congress Avenue business ever since.
Jeff George’s massage parlor, Executive Touch, never got off the ground, but soon after the failed venture he approached Dude about leasing the contested strip club.
In February, Dude, weary of Farese, struck a deal to sell an interest in the company that owned the shopping center to Jeff George, Rosenbach said. As co-owners of the property, Jeff George and his father now are moving to evict Farese. The case still is pending in Circuit Court. Reached Friday, Farese declined to comment.
Besides the strip club, businesses that now lease space from Jeff George include a sex shop and a dealer in hydroponics equipment, records show.
Now, as federal agents build a case against the brothers, freezing their bank accounts and seizing their assets, their days of excess and entitlement could be over.
Eisenberg, their attorney, said Friday he’s ready to defend his clients against federal charges.
“These guys ran what they felt was a legitimate business,” Eisenberg said. “They had doctors, and the doctors were saying everything’s OK.”
He said the twins’ bluster isn’t evidence of wrongdoing.
“These guys may have talked a big game,” he said, “but they really didn’t do anything illegal.”