Here it is. The list of the 20 richest, and most notorious, drug dealers in history. They’re a fascinating collection of powerful men and women who lived violent or strange lives while amassing some of the greatest fortunes imaginable. Government officials and acquaintances viewed these criminals and businessmen as some of the most fearful on earth. Many of these landed on official most-wanted lists in several countries. Intriguing is the strong connections they had to other criminals, or their reliance on keeping to themselves. Many were part of family businesses that made the richest drug lords who they were. Amazing, too, is the incredibly accurate net worth attributed to each based on government and law enforcement records, and in some cases photos of huge piles of money retrieved during police raids. Net worth listed here from least to greatest. Great reading. And here we go….
20. Frank Lucas: $52 Million
Frank Lucas made his success as a drug trafficker by buying heroin directly from the Golden Triangle; one of the most extensive areas in the world producing and trafficking heroin until Afghanistan exceeded Asia in the early years of the 21st century. Lucas smuggled heroin and drugs into the United States by hiding them inside the false bottoms of coffins carrying deceased servicemen. Denzel Washington portrayed Lucas in the movie American Gangster, which was a dramatic fictionalization of Lucas and his Harlem drug trafficking operation. Lucas claimed that he headed toward crime after his cousin, who was just twelve, was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members. Lucas was famous in Drug Enforcement Administration circles for his international drug-smuggling connections and his practice of selling the narcotics on the street by himself. At one time, Lucas owned property all around the United States. He was ultimately arrested and convicted of state and federal drug violations. He was sentenced to more than 70 years prison time, served 12 years in two different terms, and was placed in witness protection along with his family. Lucas was also featured in the television series American Gangster and the series Drug Lords, a Netflix documentary production.
19. José David Figueroa Agosto: $100 Million
With the established position of head of the Puerto Rican organization which made 90% of its cocaine, Figueroa Agosto is one of the most influential, and dangerous, Puerto Rican drug lords. It took ten years of officer surveillance to capture Agosto, but he was finally captured in the capital of Puerto Rico. Agosto was on the most wanted fugitive lists in both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In his fugitive life, he evaded authorities and lived in luxury in both countries. It was said that he was able to buy cars and homes using false identities. At one time, he was the driver for a drug boat. But in 1993, he murdered a truck driver for stealing a Columbian cocaine shipment. Carrying out the hit was just one role Agosto played in his criminal organization. He was convicted of the truck driver’s murder and was sentenced to 209 years of prison. But he managed to present Puerto Rican guards a fake release order and walked out the front gates of the prison. Agosto was eventually arrested even though he had disguised himself with plastic surgeries and wearing a wig. Agosto is currently imprisoned in a federal cell in Brooklyn, New York, where he awaits trial for multiple crimes including murder, kidnapping, money laundering and drug trafficking.
18. George Jung: $100 Million
George Jung was born in August 1942 in Boston Massachusetts. He carried the nicknames of Boston George and El Americano due to his part in the United States cocaine trade of the 1970s and 80s. He was also part of the Medellín Cartel; the ruthless Columbian drug trafficking organization known to bring in more than $60 million a day. In the United States alone, the Medellín Cartel smuggled close to 85% of the cocaine there. Jung’s specialty was large scale Columbian cocaine smuggling. He started by having his girlfriend transport drugs for him. She was a stewardess and could hide the drugs in her suitcases. Jung had originally bought cannabis in California and sold it in New England. Then he expanded operations internationally. Johnny Depp portrayed Jung in the film Blow, which tells Jung’s life story. After his arrest and conviction for drug smuggling, Jung served almost 20 years in prison. Jung has been incarcerated in several prison institutions throughout the United States. He is 75 years old and was most recently released from a halfway house in July 2017.
17. Nicky Barnes: $105 Million
Leroy Nicky Barnes was born in Harlem, New York. He was a crime boss in New York City. He formed an African-American syndicate to control heroin trade in 1972. There were seven men on The Council, which became part of an international ring of drug traffickers. The partnership included the Italian-American mafia. Barnes had left home at a young age and dealing drugs became his income. He also had his own heroin addiction until he went to jail. Barnes met Matthew Madonna who dealt heroin as part of the Lucchese crime family while he was in jail. Barnes also met “Crazy” Joe Gallo of the Colombo crime family there. Gallo turned to Barnes to learn how to deal drugs in Harlem and other African-American areas. The two shared their knowledge. By the time Gallo got out of jail the two were collaborating significantly. Gallo hired a lawyer on behalf of Barnes, whose conviction was subsequently overturned. Barnes returned to New York and began his syndicate. He shaped his organization well, protecting his assets, his operation and his dealers and himself. His domination of the Harlem area earned him the nickname “Mr. Untouchable”. When he finally went to prison, he served as a federal informant. His story is documented in Mr. Untouchable, and he penned Mr. Untouchable: My Crimes and Punishments as his memoir in 2007. He is currently part of the United States Federal Witness Protection Program and has reached his 8th decade of life. Sean “Diddy” Combs portrayed Barnes in the movie Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power.
16. Paul Lir Alexander: $170 Million
Paul Lir Alexander is known as one of the richest Brazilian drug lords. His nickname is El Parito Loco, “The Crazy Duck”. He was born in Brazil c.1956 and went on to serve in the Mossad and the Israeli Army. He also worked as an agent for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), and then went on to lead a Brazilian drug-smuggling ring. Alexander’s wealth has been counted in his Brazilian ranches, his jet, and his $25 million yacht. He rose to the top of Rio de Janeiro’s drug wealth by selling cocaine in the United States. He used electrical transformers to hide and transport the cocaine. The DEA arrested Alexander in 1993. He was sentenced to 19 years of prison time. Afterward, in Brazil, he was arrested once again and sent to serve 42 years in prison. He was temporarily released in 2010, and completely disappeared.
15. Zhenli Ye Gon: $300 Million
Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican citizen of Mexico born in Shanghai, China, is the owner of Unimed Pharm Chem México. Ye Gon’s company, Unimed, had Mexican government authorization to import pseudoephedrine and ephedrine into the country from 2002 to 2004. At that time, these products were commonly included in cold medications available over the counter. Because they were also key to manufacturing methamphetamine, Mexican government officials audited Unimed closely; even after the company’s license to import these products ended in 2005. Ye Gon eventually faced allegations that he and some of his employees had continued to import unauthorized chemicals into Mexico. The United States government filed an indictment against Ye Gon stating that four shipments were part of a larger conspiracy to support methamphetamine importation. Some sources claim that Ye Gon is part of the Sinaloa Cartel, the international crime syndicate which the United States Intelligence Community has described as “ the world’s most powerful organization trafficking drugs”. With cases against him in Mexico and the United States, Ye Gon was eventually arrested in Maryland and incarcerated. His assets were seized from his Mexico City residence, and included millions of U.S. dollars and Mexican pesos, thousands of euros and Hong Kong dollars, and vast amounts of jewels, Mexican gold bullion coins, automatic guns, vehicles and property.
14. Joseph Kennedy: $400 Million
While much has been written about Kennedy’s famous family, his educational background, his career in investing and business, and his unusual request to have a lobotomy performed on his eldest daughter Rosemary, nothing much is written about his alleged participation in illegal activities. Kennedy was the oldest child in a political family. Kennedy graduated from Harvard College and married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of the Mayor of Boston. Kennedy and Rose had nine children. As his success in business increased, the family was able to keep homes in Boston, Hyannis Port, Palm Beach, and New York City. In 1957, Fortune magazine included Kennedy in its first list of the United State’s richest people. He was ranked in the $200 to $400 million category. Kennedy died in 1969, but the rumor about how he made his wealth exploded when Frank Costello, the famed Brooklyn Mafia boss told an author that he and Kennedy has bootlegged together during Prohibition. There is no evidence in existence to prove that Kennedy was linked to Costello, but many chuckle and simply assert that they think there may be some truth to the rumor.
13. “Freeway Ricky” Ross: $600 Million
Ricky Donnell Ross is best known for his vast network of drug sales throughout Los Angeles and across the United States. He dealt in tons of cocaine, buying and selling tons of it over seven years. His distribution network eventually included forty-two cities and is said to have made gross earnings more than $900 million. “Freeway Ricky” made contacts which allowed him to buy reduced rate Nicaraguan cocaine, which he distributed on the street for far less than average. He distributed cocaine to the Bloods and Crips gangs, and he had employees by the thousands. The police tried to catch him, but he avoided them because his voice scramblers and police scanners were considered by at least on interviewed Los Angeles County Sheriff to be “better than what the police had”. Michael K. Williams portrays Ross in the movie Kill the Messenger.
12. Rafael Caro Quintero: $650 Million
Caro Quintero tried to hide in Costa Rica after the murders, but he was arrested and extradited to Mexico. He received a sentence of 40 years imprisonment for the murders he committed. After his arrest, the Guadalajara Cartel disbanded as its members joined other cartels. Though Caro Quintero was freed early in his prison term, the United States government pressured to have a federal court in Mexico arrest him. Caro Quintero is currently a fugitive wanted in the United States, Mexico and other countries.
Rafael Caro Quintero co-founded the Guadalajara Cartel. The organization shipped marijuana from Mexico to the United States. During its heyday, the cartel shipped huge amounts of marijuana through its network of drug traffickers. Caro Quintero was alleged to have kidnapped and murdered several people:
- DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar
- Pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar
- American author John Clay Walker
- Student of dentistry Alberto Radelat
11. Joaquín Guzmán: $1 Billion
El Chapo transported tons of cocaine from Columbia via Mexico to distribution cells throughout the United States. Marijuana, MDMA, heroin, methamphetamine are also products his organization distributes throughout Europe and North America. El Chapo was arrested in 2014, but had the reputation of exporting more drugs than any other trafficker to the United States, with 500 tons and more of cocaine topping the list. El Chapo has been arrested, escaped and imprisoned several times. His fame is such that he is featured in Mexican narco ballads and American songs. His life was presented in a Netflix/ Univision co-production El Chapo.
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was ranked by Forbes magazine as the “biggest drug lord” in history. Guzmán made Forbes’ list every year from 2009 until 2011, such was his powerful reputation. At 5 feet 6 inches tall, his nickname “El Chapo” or “Shorty”, aptly describes his short stature. Government agencies have awarded him amazing nicknames based on his phenomenal ability to influence criminal networks worldwide, even though he has never been present in some of the cities which do business on his behalf:
- U.S. Department of the Treasury- considers him to be the world’s most powerful drug trafficker
- U.S. DEA- views him to be as influential as Pablo Escobar, and named El Chapo “the drug world’s godfather”
- U.S. Federal Government- calls him “feared, dangerous and ruthless, more than an other man on Earth”
- Chicago Crime Commission- named him “Public Enemy Number One” on the level of Al Capone
10. Al Capone: $1.3 Billion
This famous American crime boss often went by the name of “Scarface” but he was born Alphonse Gabriel Capone. He was the child of immigrants from Italy, and one of nine children born to Gabriele and Teresa Capone. The Capones had come from the town of Angri, lived for a time in Fiume, Austria-Hungary, and then sailed by ship to America to settle in Brooklyn, New York. Though Capone was a promising Catholic school student, he eventually was expelled because he hit one of the women teachers in the face. After that, he took on a variety of odd jobs in Brooklyn and mentored with Johnny Torrio, the gangster. Capone worked his way through small gangs to more powerful ones, and eventually followed Torrio to work as a brothel bouncer. His work came with the side benefit of syphilis, which contracted when he was about 20 years old. By the time he was 26, Capone took over control of the crime group Torrio headed. The organization had illegal breweries and liquor transportation in a crime network that extended into Canada. Topping it off was the protection given to the network from politicians and law enforcement. He became a celebrity, known for his jewelry, custom suits, expensive cigars, extravagant foods and drinks and plenty of women. He was imprisoned for violating the prohibition laws, and for tax evasion, even though his criminal activities often centered on presumptions of physical brutality and murder. Capone served time in Alcatraz and the Federal Correctional Institution at Terminal Island, CA, the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary, and the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. He died from a stroke, pneumonia and cardiac arrest in his mansion on Palm Island, Florida after struggling with symptoms caused by the late stages of syphilis
9. Griselda Blanco: $2 Billion
She was a member of the Medellín Cartel, a Colombian drug lady, and part of the Miami underworld of cocaine drug trading. She is said to be the trafficker responsible for perhaps 200 murders during the time she transported cocaine from Colombia to Southern California, Miami, and New York. She was born in Cartagena and was shot do death in Medellín at the age of 69. She started her criminal life picking pockets and looting. She was a historic figure in drug trafficking from Colombia to the United States. Her drug network was violent, lawless and free-wheeling. Her corrupt business practices created revenues from drug distribution said to be more than $80.000.000 USD every month. Her competitors eventually made attempts to assassinate her, so she escaped to California. She was arrested and spend ten years in jail but ran her cocaine empire from prison. She was equally comfortable with guns, cocaine, and a bisexual lifestyle. Court proceedings revealed that she had killed random bystanders, her business competitors, strippers, a boy who was just four years old, and three of her former husbands. According to one of her sons, she eventually embraced a new life as a born-again Christian.
Griselda Blanco Restrepo carries several nicknames:
- Cocaine Godmother
- La Madrina
- Queen of Narco-Trafficking
- Black Widow
- La Dama de la Mafia
8. Carlos Lehder: $2.7 Billion
Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas is serving prison time in the United States. As a Colombian drug lord, he co-founded the Medellin Cartel. He operated a massive cocaine transportation network in the Bahamas on Norman’s Cay Island. He is significant for founding Muerte a Secuestradores, the paramilitary organization focused on retaliation against guerrillas who kidnapped cartel families and members. He also founded the National Latin Movement, which was described as neo-Nazi in its politics and focused on destroying the extradition treaty existing between Colombia and the United States. Charged with drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder, Lehder’s downfall came when he attracted attention to his Norman’s Cay operations by openly bribing officials in the Bahamas. Lehder’s father is German and his mother is Columbian. His family owned a used car business, and Lehder began is path toward a life of crime by stealing American cars to sell in the family business. It is believed that Lehder continues to serve 55 years of a lfie without parole sentence plus an additional 135 years. But, because he agreed to testify against Manuel Noriega, it is also thought that Lehder is living in the witness protection program.
7. Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and His Brother: $3 Billion
Gilberto and his brother Miguel joined together with José Santacruz Londoño to form the Cali Cartel. It was named for its city base of Santiago de Cali. Cali as access to the Pacific Coast, which is its major distinction from other Colombian cities. The brothers began trafficking marijuana and then added cocaine. The Cali Cartel differed from the violent Medellín Cartel by using bribery to reach its goals. Gilberto was arrested when the Colombian National Police raided his home. Gilberto had evaded the police earlier because he hid in a bathroom cabinet along with a tank of oxygen. He was convicted and sent to prison to serve a 15-year sentence. He was freed for a time, and then recaptured. Giberto and Miguel were both extradited to the United States and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine and subsequently conspiracy to engage in laundering money. Gilberto is serving 30 years at the Butner, North Carolina Federal Correctional Institution. The brothers agreed to plead guilty in exchange for obtaining immunity for 29 members of their family.
6. Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha: $5 Billion
Known as El Mexicano, Gacha was killed at the age of 42 by police. He had made enemies with the DEA, the Cali Cartel, the Colombian government, the FARC guerrillas and Victor Carranza and his so-called emerald guild. Eventually, his enemies collaborated to break him. The Cali Cartel infiltrated his organization and the rest shared intelligence reports with the government. Informants contributed to Gacha’s locations and eventually a huge raid took place. Gacha was killed by helicopter-mounted machine gun fire. His funeral was attended by thousands of mourners from Pacho, where residents commended his work to renovate town buildings. Gacha had prospered in drug trafficking, and he was a known killer. He developed a lucrative alliance with the Ochoa family, and that grew into the Medellín Cartel. Gacha was the pioneer of new drug trafficking routes in Houston, Texas, Los Angeles, California, and Mexico. His love for the popular culture of Mexico earned him his nickname, and he capitalized on his passion by owning horse, farms and wealth. His operations stretched from Panama to California and beyond. He set up the largest jungle laboratory for making and packing cocaine named Tranquilandia. There were two thousand workers who lived in dormitories at the complex and when it was finally destroyed by the DEA and the Columbian National Police more than 13 metric tons of cocaine were destroyed as well.
5. Khun Sa: $5 Billion
Khun Sa is the Burmese AKA for the Chinese Zhang Qifu. He was born in Burma and spent his early years training with the Burmese Army and the Kuomintang. He eventually fought to establish his own territory, which allowed him to conduct extensive opium smuggling in the Golden Triangle. From 1976 and for twenty years following, he dominated the opium traffic. He used the support of both Burmese and Thai governments to accomplish his goals. His massive network earned him the title “Opium King”. His work as a drug warlord extended internationally. When American Drug Enforcement Agency broke the links he had established with his international brokers, he closed down operations and moved to Yangon to live with his mistresses in great wealth.
4. Jorge Luis Ochoa Vásquez and His Brothers: $6 Billion
Jorge, Juan David, and Fabio Ochoa were primary members of the dangerous Medellín Cartel during the later years of the 1980s. The brothers were notorious for their cooperation in manufacturing, distributing, and marketing cocaine. The Ochoa brothers originally were part of a cattle- breeding family that also did business with family restaurants. Their movement into the narcotics business began during the 1970s, and their cartel was founded by Jorge. The Columbian family was involved in numerous arrests, indictments, and extradition attempts in various countries, but by 1984 their power was so grounded that the cartel made a public announcement that each Columbian extradition would result in ten murdered Columbian judges. Jorge was listed in Forbes as one of the top twenty richest men in the world. His personal estimated worth in 1987 was close to $3 billion.
3. Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar: $6.7 Billion
Dawood Ibrahim is from Mumbai, india. He founded D-Company, a crime syndicate organized in India. In 2003, he earned the rank of global terrorist. In 2011, he earned the spot of third on World’s Ten Most-Wanted Criminals. He’s been charged with terrorism, drug trafficking, extortion, murder, and targeted killing. He currently lives in Karachi, Pakistan. It is believed that he controls the money transferring system called hawala. It’s an informal value transfer method which depends on honorable cash movement within a network of money brokers. The United Stated Department of the Treasury has attempted to monitor his smuggling routes and narcotics shipments. His organization operates in India, South Asia, Africa, the UK, Western Europe and the Middle East, and shares similar networks with al-Qaeda. Many concerted efforts have taken place to have Ibrahim brought to justice in India, but he maintains Pakistani passports and residents and reports indicate that he may have shifted operations to the Pakistani-Afghanistan border. His D-Company has also been linked to the Bollywood industry, as numerous studios and films were financed, and threatened and extorted by it. The film Shootout at Wadala is about Ibrahim’s D-Company and its growing influence.
2. Amado Carrillo Fuentes: $25 Billion
He was known as “The Lord of the Skies” because he transported drugs using his huge fleet of jets. He also viciously took over the Juárez Cartel when he assassinated his boss. Once Rafael Aguilar Guajardo was dead, it opened the way for Fuentes to become the cartel head. Fuentes came from a family of 11 children, and once he learned the drug trafficking trade, he added his brothers, and his son, as his employees. The empire he built was a multi-billion-dollar drug trafficking machine. In Mexico and the United states, authorities were determined to capture him. In an effort to evade them, Fuentes tried to have his appearance changed with plastic surgery. The operation wasn’t successful, and he died from surgical complications from either a respirator which malfunctioned or medication. He’d had his bodyguards with him in the operating room to watch over the July surgery. In November, the two surgeons who operated on him were found dead. Their bodies had apparently been tortured, and then encased in steel drums filled with concrete. A fictionalized version of his life, starring Rafael Amaya, called El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of the Skies) was aired on Telemundo for several years.
1. Pablo Escobar: $30 Billion – Topping the list of the richest drug lords
The notorious narcoterrorist and drug lord from Colombia was born Pablo Emilion Escobar Gaviria. He was the leader of a cartel known to have smuggled 80% of the cocaine in the United States. The King of Cocaine earned his title for having an annual personal income of more than $21.9 billion per year. He was from Rionegro and grew up in Medellín. He was a university student in Medellín for a time, but left before earning a degree to sell fake lottery tickets, contraband cigarettes, and to steal motor vehicles. He developed a skill for infiltrating the United States drug market and specialized in cocaine smuggling. He is credited with establishing the first successful smuggling routes leading into the U.S. His Medellín Cartel was known for murders and massacres of politicians and law enforcement officials. Though he became popular for building football fields and house in Columbia, the city also earned the title of the world’s murder capital. Colombian National Police killed Escobar when he was just 44 years old.