These Are the Richest Drug Dealers of All Time

Things are changing in the United States when it comes to drugs. A handful of states with the loosest marijuana laws legalized the drug, and a few more states will have legal marijuana by 2020. Going to prison because of drugs is still a real danger, yet it’s a danger some drug kingpins avoid. Who says crime doesn’t pay? Definitely not these richest drug dealers who made millions and billions of dollars while breaking the law.

Two of the people on our list were the subjects of major Hollywood movies (pages 1 and 3). We think you know who No. 1 on the list is, but you might be shocked seeing the man tied for the top spot (page 19). And since drug kingpins keep their finances off the books, all dollar amounts are estimated.

20. Frank Lucas

Mugshot of Frank Lucas

Denzel Washington portrayed Frank Lucas in the movie American Gangster. | United States Government/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $52 million

It’s OK if you don’t know who Frank Lucas is since, as a drug dealer, he’s a bit off the radar. Do you know who Denzel Washington is? He starred as Lucas in the movie American Gangster, which dramatized his life as a New York City drug dealer in the 1960s and 70s.

Next: One of his nicknames indicates how successful this kingpin is.

18. Jose David Figueroa Agosto (TIE)

Jose Figueroa Agosto

Agosto made 90% of the cocaine in Puerto Rico. | U.S. Marshal’s Service

  • Estimated drug money earned: $100 million

At one time, Jose David Figueroa Agosto led a drug cartel making 90% of the cocaine in Puerto Rico. If you don’t know him by his proper name, then his nickname should tell you just how good he is at his job. Agosto is also known as the Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean.

Next: Hollywood turned his story into a blockbuster movie.

18. George Jung (TIE)

George Jung

The movie Blow was based on George Jung’s (L) life. | Nish242/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $100 million

The Hollywood movie Blow about George Jung’s life starring Johnny Depp made $83 million around the world. It’s an impressive total, but it’s just a fraction of Jung’s estimated net worth of $100 million, which makes him one of the richest drug dealers of all time.

Next: A man with a very similar career arc to another person on our list.

17. Nicky Barnes

Nicky Barnes

Nicky Barnes made his millions selling heroin in the 1970s. | Blowback Productions

  • Estimated drug money earned: $105 million

We met Frank Lucas just a few minutes ago. Nicky Barnes is similar to Lucas in a few ways — a New York drug kingpin dealing heroin in the 1970s — but there are two major differences. Hollywood never made a big-budget about Barnes, and his net worth is about twice that of Lucas.

Next: Our first South American on the list.

16. Paul Lir Alexander

Cocaine

Paul Lir Alexander disappeared in 2010 and hasn’t been seen since. | Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

  • Estimated drug money earned: $170 million

Brazilian Paul Lir Alexander reportedly served in Israel’s Mossad intelligence group and the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency before a 1993 arrest and prison sentence. He disappeared in 2010 while on release from a Brazilian prison and no one knows where he is.

With a $25 million yacht reportedly part of his riches, he could be sailing around the world spending his $170 million fortune that makes him one of the richest drug dealers of all time.

Next: He started out legitimate…

15. Zhenli Ye Gon

Zhenli Ye Gon money

When Zhenli Ye Gon was arrested, authorities found millions of dollars stashed in his home. | Drug Enforcement Administration/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $300 million

Zhenli Ye Gon started out as a legitimate drug dealer. His company, Unimed Pharm Chem Mexico, imported ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to make cold medicine. However, those same chemicals also go into methamphetamines, and he was arrested in Maryland in 2007 on conspiracy charges.

At the time of his arrest, Zhenli reportedly had $205 million in cash, 18 million pesos, 200,000 Euros, 113,000 Hong Kong dollars, and 11 pure gold coins at his house. How many legitimate drug dealers have that kind of stash?

Next: Look for him online.

14. “Freeway” Rick Ross

Rick Donnell Ross

At his peak, “Freeway” Rick Ross was making $1 to $2 milion a day. | Patrick Bastien Photography/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $600 million

At the peak of his time as a drug kingpin, “Freeway” Rick Ross made $1 to $2 million per day and roughly $600 million total selling cocaine. He’s definitely one of the richest drug dealers ever, but these days he’s totally legit. He does speaking engagements and has his own website selling branded merchandise.

Next: He made his money before marijuana was mainstream.

13. Rafael Caro Quintero

Rafael Caro Quintero

Quintero is still on the run. | FBI

  • Estimated drug money earned: $650 million

As we mentioned, marijuana is mainstream in the United States these days. Quintero made his money smuggling marijuana from Mexico to the U.S. before it was legal. That’s how he made $650 million dealing drugs.

Next: Probably the most famous drug dealer in the 21st century.

12. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Leora

Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka "el Chapo Guzman" is escorted by marines as he is presented to the press

El Chapo is one of the most notorious drug dealers of all time. | Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

  • Estimated drug money earned: $1 billion

El Chapo is one of the richest criminals of all time, so you know he’s also one of the richest drug dealers we’ve ever seen. He’s also incredibly famous (for a drug dealer) and is something of a myth because of his arrest (2014), escape (2015), and recapture (2016).

Next: Three cities, two countries, and one big fortune.

11. Griselda Blanco

Griselda Blanco mugshot

Blanco was a major kingpin. | Metro Dade Police Department/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $2 billion

Blanco started her life in Colombia, lived for a time in New York City, and later moved to Miami. No matter where she lived she was a major cocaine kingpin, and she earned roughly $2 billion to be one of the richest drug dealers ever before her 2012 death.

Next: A founding member of the drug cartel that changed the world.

10. Carlos Lehder

Carlos Lehder mugshot

Columbian drug kingpin Carlos Lehder got his start stealing cars. | Drug Enforcement Administration/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $2.7 billion

Colombian kingpin Carlos Lehder started his life of crime stealing cars and giving them to his dad’s car dealership, but you probably know him better as one of the founders of the Medellin cartel. He came up with the idea of smuggling cocaine to the United States in small, low-flying aircraft, and his success doing it that way helped him build a $2.7 billion fortune.

Next: The man who started the other major Colombian cartel.

9. Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela

Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, 63, a leader of the Cali drug cartel

Orejuela founded the Cali cartel. | HO/AFP/Getty Images

  • Estimated drug money earned: $3 billion

With help from his brother, Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, and a friend, Jose Santa Cruz Londono, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela founded the Cali cartel, the other major Colombian drug cartel along with the Medellin cartel.

The Cali cartel started trafficking marijuana before switching to cocaine. All three turned out to be some of the richest drug dealers of all time, but Gilberto leads the pack with an estimated $3 billion fortune.

Next: Expanding an empire helped this man make a ton of money.

7. Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha (TIE)

Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha

Gacha was a major player in the Medellin cartel. | U.S. Department of Justice/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $5 billion

Up until his death in a police raid in 1989, Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha was a main player in the Medellin cartel. He reportedly helped extend the cartel’s reach from Colombia to Mexico, Houston, and Los Angeles. His efforts apparently made him a rich man as he died with an estimated $5 billion fortune.

Next: Let’s head to the far east for a minute

7. Khun Sa (TIE)

Khun Sa meeting with a journalist

Khun Sa dominated the opium and heroin trade. | Stephen Rice/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $5 billion

With nicknames like “Opium King” and “King of the Golden Triangle,” it almost goes without saying Khun Sa is one of the richest drug dealers of all time. From 1974 to 1994 he dominated the opium and heroin trade in southeast Asia, which helped him build a $5 billion empire before his 1996 capture and 2007 death.

Next: It’s all in the family.

6. Ochoa Vasquez brothers

Prominent Colombian drug trafficker Fabio Ochoa Vasquez

Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez, along with his brothers Fabio (pictured above) and Juan David, was a key fiure in the Medellin cartel. | Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

  • Estimated drug money earned: $6 billion

Drug trafficking was a family affair for Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez, who, along with his brothers Juan David Ochoa Vasquez and Fabio Ochoa Vasquez, was a key figure in the Medellin cartel. Jorge earned an estimated $3 billion fortune, and the three brothers combined for about $6 billion.

Next: A cop’s son is one of the richest drug dealers we’ve ever seen.

5. Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar

Dawood Ibrahim

Kaskar is a known terrorist and is currently in hiding. | Interpol

  • Estimated drug money earned: $6.7 billion

Calling Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar just a drug dealer is like saying Jay Leno’s car collection has a couple nice cars. The son of an Indian police officer, Kaskar has his hand in all kinds of illegal activities including extortion, murder, terrorism, and drug trafficking as the leader of the D-Company crime syndicate.

Next: Four siblings worked together smuggling drugs, and one of them got really rich.

4. Alfredo Beltran Leyva

drugdealer Alfredo Beltran Leyva

Leyva founded a Mexican cartel. | Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

  • Estimated drug money earned: $10 billion

Alfredo Beltran Leyva is the youngest of four brothers who founded the Mexican Beltran Leyva drug cartel. He is also the richest of his siblings. Smuggling multi-ton cocaine shipments helped Alfredo Beltran Leyva amass a $10 billion fortune before his 2008 arrest.

Next: A cut-throat, jet-setting drug dealer.

3. Amado Carrillo Fuentes

Masked Mexican police stand guard during a raid of a currency exchange store

Fuentes murdered his own boss. | Susana Gonzalez/Getty Images

  • Estimated drug money earned: $25 billion

Amado Carillo Fuentes isn’t a household name, but he was a cut-throat, jet-setting, and very rich drug dealer. He murdered his boss to assume leadership of Mexico’s Juarez Cartel, and he made a fortune by working closely with a man we’ll meet in a minute to fly cocaine into the U.S. using a fleet of jets. You might not know the name, but you should know Fuentes is one of the richest drug dealers who ever lived.

Next: Taking over the family business.

1. Christopher Coke (TIE)

Christopher Coke

Coke took over his father’s drug business. | U.S. Marshal’s Service/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $30 billion

After his father died, Coke took over the family drug business and built it into an empire. From his Jamaican base, he made an estimated $30 billion shipping marijuana and cocaine to the United States, according to The Telegraph.

Next: The man you expected to see all along.

1. Pablo Escobar (TIE)

Pablo Emilio Escobar mugshot

Escobar may be the most infamous of the bunch. | Colombian National Police/Wikimedia Commons

  • Estimated drug money earned: $30 billion

This is the man you expected to see all along, right? No matter how you look at it, Pablo Escobar is one of the richest drug dealers of all time. He made anywhere between $9 and $30 billion as the head of the Medellin Cartel, but we’re going with the bigger number and we feel safe doing so. After all, he was making $420 million each week at his peak before he died, thanks in part to using Amado Carillo Fuentes’ fleet of jets to smuggle drugs.

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