Owning some of South Florida's busiest pill mills was lucrative work and nothing held him back, Christopher George told a jury on Tuesday — not his complete lack of experience in the health care industry or even his criminal history as a convicted felon.
"It brought in probably $40 million," George said of the profits from the so-called pain management business in Broward and Palm Beach counties that he ran for three years.
But there were hassles too and the main one was obvious to jurors as George — the star witness against two doctors accused of overprescribing pain pills and helping to cause the deaths of nine patients — testified Tuesday in federal court in West Palm Beach. The 32-year-old former Wellington man was handcuffed, shackled and is serving 17 1/2 years in federal prison for his role in the alleged conspiracy.
Federal prosecutors hope George's testimony will convince the jury that doctors Cynthia Cadet, 43, of Parkland, and Joseph Castronuovo, 74, of Key Largo, should be held criminally liable for the patient deaths and a host of related charges.
The physicians have pleaded not guilty and insist they provided legitimate medical care.
Christopher George, 32, and his twin brother, Jeffrey, who grew up in Wellington the bad-boy sons of a wealthy homebuilder, began running pill mills in 2007 when construction work slowed down. Jeffrey George, who also pleaded guilty and is serving 15 1/2 years in prison, is not expected to testify.
If his testimony goes well, Christopher George hopes prosecutors will recommend he get out of prison a few years early. He was caught — on a recorded phone call from the Palm Beach County earlier this month — being coached by his father, John George, on what was going on in court and how best to testify. The trial judge chastized the dad, who hasn't returned to the courtroom since.
Christopher George gave jurors an account Tuesday of how he set up his first clinic in Wilton Manors with five patients showing up on opening day and how it rapidly grew into a moneymaker. Before too long, he said 200 or so "patients" from out of state showed up every day to buy as many pain pills as his doctors would prescribe.
"It grew very fast," George testified, saying he recruited willing doctors with ads on Craigslist.
He only hired doctors willing to prescribe as many oxycodone pills as they thought would not attract the attention of the Drug Enforcement Administration. If they didn't do what he wanted, he said, they were fired.
Some doctors, including Cadet, made as much as $15,000 to $20,000 a week, George testified, and he brought home more than $100,000 a week when the business got going.
The businesses brought in so much cash that his staff quickly stopped using cash registers because they filled up too quickly, he said. They tried cash drawers for a while but George said that slowed down business too much and eventually they settled on dropping the cash into two-gallon trash bins by their desks.
As the business evolved, he realized that a prior criminal conviction for illegally importing and selling steroids was bringing more unwanted attention and he put the clinics in a friend's name, though he still ran them.
George testified he saved some money, stashing $5 million in safes in his mom's attic and bedroom, but he also blew a lot of it. He bought three homes, some boats and so many luxury cars that he struggled to recall the details.
"I went through a lot, I don't remember all of them," George testified, listing off Range Rovers, BMWs, a Mercedes, a Lamborghini, a Bentley, and a freightliner truck that cost more than $200,000.
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