Why you should care
Because even though Hollywood and hip-hop glorify gangsters, the reality is far from pretty.
George “Boy George” Rivera wasn’t one to go with the flow. Instead of selling crack in the 1980s, in Manhattan and the South Bronx, he flipped the script, selling vials of heroin he called “Obsession.” During the summer of 1987, according to court records, Rivera’s “highly structured, street-level heroin distribution organization” moved $100,000 worth of the drug per week, and dragged countless youths into addiction while propelling the flamboyant 19-year-old Puerto Rican to multimillionaire status.
Using a corporate front, Tuxedo Enterprises, Rivera modeled his drug empire after a legal entity. Keeping with the business-inspired theme, he offered cash bonuses, gifts and Disney World vacations to keep his dealers loyal. “He was ahead of his time,” says Don Diva Magazine editor-in-chief Tiffany Chiles, referring to the drug entrepreneur’s youth and business acumen. “To operate on that level as a young man took a great amount of thought, action, vision and determination.” Far from being destined for the Fortune 500, though, the self-styled CEO had been linked to 12 homicides by 1988, and the feds were actively building their case.
The press called me the Puerto Rican James Bond because of the gadgets in my car.
A 14-count indictment, filed in June 1990, charged Rivera and his crew with a heroin conspiracy, revealing a world of lavish parties, limousines, women and unbelievable wealth. From the poverty-ridden streets of the South Bronx to ski weekends in the Poconos, Rivera had amassed a fortune. He owned commercial real estate and a mansion in Puerto Rico, a stash house in Normandie Court on the Upper East Side — where he stored garbage bags full of money — and a fleet of customized cars equipped with 007-style gadgetry to elude law enforcement.
“The press called me the Puerto Rican James Bond because of the gadgets in my car,” Rivera says, adding that the law would still be chasing him if he had made it to one of his cars the night of his arrest. One Mercedes had $50,000 in upgrades, including a license plate that slid out of view, radar detectors, a strobe light that blinded anyone tailing him, a device that squirted oil from the tailpipe, a switch that, when flipped, triggered a spray of nail-like tacks from the trunk, and concealed compartments in the door panels and floor for hiding weapons, drugs and cash.
Rivera’s $140,000 customized Porsche had multiple cellphones, a 10-track CD player, a 630-watt stereo, a color TV and VCR, custom rugs, ostrich-skin interior, an ebony finish and the requisite concealed compartments. Rivera spoiled himself so much that he once sent a girlfriend to San Francisco to fetch a pair of Nikes he wanted that weren’t available yet in New York.
A quintessential baller, Rivera hosted a Christmas party for his crew in 1988 that’s achieved legend status in hip-hop and street lore. He once paid $30,000 to ferry 150 colleagues around New York Harbor on the Riveranda. The black-tie event “included a steak dinner, Big Daddy Kane performing, several fights between different dealers, and even a man thrown overboard,” Chiles says. Clad in a silk tuxedo and Bally shoes, Rivera handed out Rolex watches, fully loaded luxury cars, cash and trips as door prizes. Little did he know that the party and subsequent photos would prove his undoing — they strengthened the federal investigation.
Rivera was known for having a harem of women in the South Bronx tattooed with “Property of Boy George”; he was so revered — and feared — that his dealers would deliver daily bags of groceries to his girlfriends’ families. One of his girlfriends wore a 22-karat gold “Boy George” nameplate around her neck — a fancy collar provided by the ill-gotten gains of the drug trade.
But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. Authorities said Rivera chased and forced another car off the road for accidentally bumping into his Mercedes. He then reportedly confronted the other driver, stabbing him 17 times. A witness also turned up dead, stuffed in the trunk of a car at a Florida airport. The grim realities of the drug trade weren’t pretty, and Rivera proved particularly brutal when it came to protecting his criminal empire.
His legacy of violence and degradation soon caught up with him. After a two-year stint of rolling in money, Rivera was convicted of running a criminal enterprise and tax evasion and sentenced to life in federal prison. “Those who did well in the drug trade tended to not only be ruthless and calculating, but lucky. For a time, Boy George was all three,” writes Adrian Nicole LeBlanc in Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx. But Rivera’s luck did run out, depositing him in a 6-by-10-foot prison cell, where he’s doing life without parole.