Drugs have a considerable presence in countries all over the world. However, only a handful of people control the organized crime organizations that make drugs available to people in various nations. Some people make their mark in history for many reasons. However, these 20 individuals are notorious for their illegal drug dealings globally.
These men and women rose to power and seized control of the drug dealing activities in large portions of the globe. Because of their presence and reputation, they were able to amass huge fortunes. The most active time for drug lords was between the 1960s and the 2000s, but the drug trade still thrives today.
So, who are the richest drug lords in the world, both past and present? Please keep reading to learn who the most significant drug lords are and how they came to rise to power and riches.
We've compiled this list by painstakingly researching the most accurate and informative information available about each of the people mentioned on our list. The final figures were based on their amassed wealth throughout their career as a drug lord up until 2023.
Although many of the people featured on this list are deceased or no longer active in the drug trade, they still managed to collect vast sums of money that will secure them as the top drug lords of all time for many years to come.
What makes the top drug dealers of all time stand out is their wealth and the way they conducted business using fear and ultimate control to ensure their rule was never challenged by other up-and-coming drug traffickers.
Please keep reading to learn more about the richest drug lord list-- their life, rise to power, noteworthy events, and the riches they produced due to their drug-selling and smuggling activities.
20. Frank Lucas Net Worth - $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 service members. Denzel Washington portrayed Lucas in the movie American Gangster, 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 practice of selling narcotics on the street.
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 of prison, served 12 years in two different terms, and was placed in witness protection 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 Net Worth - $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. Still, he was finally arrested in the capital of Puerto Rico. Agosto was on the most wanted fugitive lists in 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 could buy cars and homes using false identities.
At one time, he was the driver of a drug boat. But in 1993, he murdered a truck driver for stealing a Columbian cocaine shipment. One role Agosto played in his criminal organization was carrying out the hit. He was convicted of the truck driver's murder and was sentenced to 209 years in prison.
But he managed to present Puerto Rican guards with a fake release order and walked out the prison's front gates. 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 Net Worth - $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 nearly 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. Jung died in 2021.
17. Nicky Barnes Net Worth - $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 the 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 sold heroin as part of the Lucchese crime family while in prison.
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 collaborated 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, operations, 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 Net Worth - $170 Million
Paul Lir Alexander is known as one of the wealthiest Brazilian drug lords. His nickname is El Parito Loco, "The Crazy Duck". He was born in Brazil in 1956 and served in the Mossad and the Israeli Army.
He also worked as an agent for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Then, he went on to lead a Brazilian drug-smuggling ring. Alexander's wealth has been counted in his Brazilian ranches, jet, and $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, he was arrested again in Brazil and sent to serve 42 years in prison. He was temporarily released in 2010 and completely disappeared.
15. Zhenli Gon Net Worth - $300 Million
Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican citizen of Mexico born in Shanghai, China, owns 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 crucial 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 that 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. They included millions of US dollars and Mexican pesos, thousands of euros and Hong Kong dollars, vast amounts of jewels, Mexican gold bullion coins, automatic guns, vehicles, and property.
14. Joseph Kennedy Net Worth - $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. He graduated from Harvard College and married Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of the Mayor of Boston. Kennedy and Rose had nine children.
As his business success increased, the family could 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 wealthiest 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 had bootlegged together during Prohibition.
There is no evidence 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 Net Worth - $600 Million
Ricky Donnell Ross is best known for his vast drug sales network throughout Los Angeles and 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 more than $900 million gross earnings. "Freeway Ricky" made contacts that 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 had thousands of employees. The police tried to catch him, but he avoided them because his voice scramblers and police scanners were considered by at least one interviewed Los Angeles County Sheriff to be "better than what the police had." Michael K. Williams portrayed Ross in the movie Kill the Messenger.
12. Rafael Caro Quintero Net Worth - $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 a federal court in Mexico to 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 vast 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. El Chapo Net Worth - $1 Billion
El Chapo transported tons of cocaine from Columbia via Mexico to distribution cells throughout the United States. Marijuana, MDMA, heroin, and 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 unique nicknames based on his phenomenal ability to influence criminal networks worldwide, even though he has never been present in some of the cities that do business on his behalf:
- US Department of the Treasury- considers him to be the world's most powerful drug trafficker
- US DEA- views him as influential as Pablo Escobar and named El Chapo "the drug world's godfather."
- The US Federal Government- calls him "feared, dangerous and ruthless, more than another man on Earth."
- Chicago Crime Commission- named him "Public Enemy Number One" on the level of Al Capone
10. Al Capone Net Worth - $1.3 Billion
This famous American crime boss often went by "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 various odd jobs in Brooklyn and mentored 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 he 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 Net Worth - $2 Billion
Blanco 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 when she transported cocaine from Colombia to Southern California, Miami, and New York.
Blanco was born in Cartagena and was shot to death in Medellín at 69. She started her criminal life picking pockets and looting.
She was a historic figure in drug trafficking from Colombia to the United States. Blanco's drug network was violent, lawless, and free-wheeling. Her corrupt business practices created revenues from drug distribution, which was said to be more than $80,000,000 monthly.
Her competitors eventually attempted to assassinate her, so she escaped to California. She was arrested and spent 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 Net Worth - $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.
Lehder also founded the National Latin Movement, described as neo-Nazi in its politics, and focused on destroying the extradition treaty between Colombia and the United States.
After he was charged with drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder, Lehder's downfall came when he attracted attention to 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 his 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 life 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. The Orejuela Brothers' Net Worth - $3 Billion
Gilberto and his brother Miguel joined José Santacruz Londoño to form the Cali Cartel. It was named for its city base of Santiago de Cali. Cali has access to the Pacific Coast; it's a significant 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 Net Worth - $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 a massive raid eventually occurred. Gacha was killed by helicopter-mounted machine gun fire.
Gacha's 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, which grew into the Medellín Cartel.
Gacha pioneered 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 for owning horses, farms, and wealth. His operations stretched from Panama to California and beyond.
He set up the largest jungle laboratory for making and packing cocaine in Tranquilandia.
There were two thousand workers who lived in dormitories at the complex. When it was finally destroyed by the DEA and the Columbian National Police, more than 13 metric tons of cocaine were also destroyed.
5. Khun Sa Net Worth - $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 territory, allowing 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 the 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 the American Drug Enforcement Agency broke the links he had established with his international brokers, he closed down operations. He moved to Yangon to live with his mistresses in great wealth.
4. The Ochoa Brothers' Net Worth - $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. Still, by 1984, their power was so grounded that the cartel publicly announced that each Columbian extradition would result in ten murdered Columbian judges.
Forbes listed Jorge 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 Net Worth - $6.7 Billion
Dawood Ibrahim is from Mumbai, India, and was one of the top drug dealers in history. He founded D-Company, a crime syndicate organized in India. In 2003, Ibrahim earned the rank of global terrorist. In 2011, he earned the spot of third on the 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.
An informal value transfer method depends on honorable cash movement within a network of money brokers. The United States 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 bring Ibrahim to justice in India. Still, 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 it financed, threatened, and extorted numerous studios and films. The film Shootout at Wadala is about Ibrahim's D-Company and its growing influence.
2. Amado Carrillo Fuentes Net Worth - $25 Billion
He was known as "The Lord of the Skies" because he transported drugs using his colossal 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 about 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 and made him one of the biggest drug lords ever to live. In Mexico and the United States, authorities were determined to capture him. 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 a malfunctioning respirator or medication.
He'd had his bodyguards 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 Net Worth - $30 Billion
The notorious narco-terrorist and drug lord from Colombia was born Pablo Emilion Escobar Gaviria. He was the leader of the Medellín cartel known to have smuggled 80% of the cocaine into the United States.
The King of Cocaine earned his title for having an annual personal income of more than $21.9 billion annually. He was from Rionegro and grew up in Medellín.
Escobar 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 in the US. His Medellín Cartel was known for murders and massacres of politicians and law enforcement officials.
Though he became famous for building football fields and houses 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.
The richest drug lord in the world to date was Pablo Escobar. He was from Rionegro, Colombia, and lived from 1949 to 1993. He was considered the most powerful drug trafficker between the 80s and 90s. He was able to amass a $70 billion fortune during his active period.
The drug lord known as Freeway Rick was born Ricky Donnell. He was a prolific drug trafficker in Los Angeles throughout the 1980s. Eventually, he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 2009, but he was let out after an appeal, served 20 years, and wrote best-selling books.
The most successful drug lord ever was Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria. He was called by many "The World's Greatest Outlaw." Another moniker was 'King of Cocaine.' He led the Colombian Medellin Cartel through the 80s and 90s until his death. He was also the richest drug lord ever in history.
The most notorious and richest female drug lord ever was Griselda Blanco. She was as well known for her power as her savage reign over her cartel associates. She was known for drug trafficking from Colombia to Miami, New York, and California from the 70s until the 2000s.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker