A drug lord (also known as drug baron, kingpin, or narcotrafficker) is a person who controls a sizable network of people involved in illegal drug trade. Drug lords are usually very rich, ruthless, and powerful. They might also be extremely difficult to bring to justice. For today’s post, we compiled a list of the most notorious drug lords that have ever lived. If you want to know more about the ruthless and violent lives of the world’s richest drug lords, the biggest drug dealers who never got caught, and other notable narcotraffickers, check out this post with 25 Most Famous Drug Dealers Throughout History.
Our list of drug lords starts out with Frank Lucas, a former heroin dealer and organized crime boss who operated in Harlem during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Lucas constructed a huge international drug empire that spanned from New York to South East Asia. He had collected millions in cash and property in several cities by the time he was busted in 1975. His criminal career was dramatized in the 2007 film “American Gangster” starring Denzel Washington.
Born in 1960, Rick Ross is a convicted drug trafficker best known for the drug empire he established in Los Angeles in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. In 1996, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; however, his sentence was reduced in 2005, and he was released in 2009. After the release, Ross went on speaking tours and talked to young people about his life in the drug trade. His life was documented in the 2015 film “Freeway: Crack in the System.”
A military dictator of Panama from 1983 to 1989, Manuel Noriega was a prize CIA asset but was also involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. He was central to the plan to swap guns for drugs with the Nicaraguan Contras (whom the US was supporting). When the US invaded Panama in 1989, Noriega was eventually captured as a prisoner of war. He was convicted of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 2011, he was extradited back to Panama to serve the rest of his sentence.
Not all drug kingpins are men. One of the most ruthless drug “queenpins” of all-time was Griselda Blanco, nicknamed “La Madrina,” or “The Black Widow.” Blanco was one of the key figures in the Medellín Cartel and has been credited with being a mentor to Pablo Escobar (see nr. 17), who would eventually become her enemy. It has been estimated that she was responsible for up to 200 murders while transporting cocaine from Colombia to the US.
Ismael Zambada Garcia
The leader of the feared Mexican Sinaloa Cartel, Ismael Zambada Garcia is one the biggest drug dealers in the world today. Nicknamed “El Mayo,” Zambada is a legendary figure in the Mexican underworld, who has reportedly never spent a day in prison. His cartel is known to traffic a wide range of narcotics, such as domestically produced heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine, while also providing transit for South American cocaine.
Nazario Moreno Gonzalez
Nazario Moreno, known as “El Mas Loco“ (The Craziest One), was the founder of the notorious La Familia Cartel. He was also regarded as the spiritual leader of its offshoot, the brutal organization Knights Templar. Gonzalez’s death was first announced after a 2010 shootout, but no body was found; it was not until another shootout in 2014 when he was really killed in a gunfight with Mexican police. Although Gonzalez was a ruthless man responsible for multiple murders, he also reportedly helped out the disadvantaged in his home state of Michoacan.
Wanted in 12 European countries for crimes connected to every aspect of drugs, arms, cars, human, and organ trafficking and other crimes, Daut Kadriovski is one of the most wanted kingpins in Europe. He is one of the biggest bosses of the Albanian Mafia, a feared crime organization unmatched for secrecy and brutality. Kadriovski gained the attention of the Australian Authorities after it was discovered that he created a drug network through Albania and Croatia to Sydney and Brisbane.
Arturo Beltran Leyva
Born in 1961, Arturo Beltran Leyva was the leader of the Beltran Leyva Cartel, a Mexican drug trafficking organization that was involved in the production and transportation of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. The gang has been said to be involved in contact killing, kidnapping, torture, and human trafficking in Mexico. Through corruption and intimidation, Leyva even infiltrated numerous political, judicial, and police institutions in the country. Leyva was killed by the Mexican Marines in December 2009.
Known as “The King of Cocaine,” Pablo Escobar was the wealthiest and most successful criminal in history. At the height of his power in 1989, the Colombian kingpin was the seventh richest man in the world. At a certain point in time, Escobar’s Medellin Cartel was responsible for as much as 80% of the global cocaine market, and it reportedly smuggled about 15 tons of cocaine into the US every day. Escobar was killed by Colombian police in his hometown Medellin in December 1993, one day after his 44th birthday.
William Leonard Pickard
Nicknamed “The Acid King,” William Leonard Pickard was one of the biggest producers of LSD in American history. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Pickard manufactured massive amounts of the drug in a secret superlab located at a shut-down nuclear missile silo near Wamego, Kansas. In 2003, he was sentenced to life without parole. In the years following his arrest, the availability of LSD in the US dropped by 95%.
Known as “King Larry,” Larry Hoover was the leader of the Black Gangster Disciple Nation in Chicago, which controlled the South Side of the city’s drug trade. By 1973, he was sentenced to 150 to 200 years in prison. However, even while behind the bars, it turns out that he was still running his crime syndicate. In 1995, after a five-year undercover investigation by the federal government, he was indicted on drug conspiracy charges. In 1997, he was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 6 life sentences.
Also known as “Dudus,” Christopher Coke is a Jamaican drug lord and the leader of the feared Shower Posse gang. The gang derives its name from “showering” communities with bullets and was blamed for more than 1,000 murders during the 1980’s. Coke, whose father was a drug lord too, is now one of the world’s most powerful kingpins – his drug activities span the Caribbean, North America, and even the United Kingdom.
Also known as “El Chapo,” Joaquin Guzman is considered one of the biggest drug lords in history. He is well known for his use of sophisticated tunnels to smuggle cocaine from Mexico into the US. Responsible for shipping tons of drugs to more than 50 countries around the world, Guzman has also earned a reputation as the world’s leading escape artist as he has managed to break out of prison two times. In 2001, he allegedly snuck out in a laundry cart; in 2014, he escaped through a secret tunnel beneath a bathtub.
Dario Antonio Usuga
The leader of Colombia’s largest and most feared cartel, the Urabenos, Usuga is one of the biggest drug lords in the world right now. The US government is offering a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture. Alongside producing and moving cocaine, Usuga’s organization also runs extortion rackets and is involved in human trafficking. The cartel also reportedly maintains strong ties to the feared Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico.
Osien Cardenas Guillen
Nicknamed “El Mata Amigos” (The Friend-Killer) after he killed his friend and mentor, Osien Cardenas Guillen was the leader of the Gulf Cartel. This cartel was an organized crime group that controlled a significant portion of Mexico’s drug trade in northeastern part of the country. Later on, Guillen also became the head of Los Zetas, a gang feared for extreme violence and brutality. Besides drug trade, Los Zetas were involved in smuggling people, kidnapping, extortion, and arms trafficking.
A former bouncer at a Liverpool nightclub, Curtis “Cocky” Warren was once Britain’s most notorious drug boss and Interpol’s Target One. The Sunday Times estimated that he, at the height of his power, had a fortune of more than 260 million dollars. In 2009, Warren was jailed for 13 years over a massive cannabis plot. He was sent to the high-security Belmarsh Prison in London for fears of a plan to spring him.
Amado Carillo Fuentes
Nicknamed “El Senor de los Cienos” (The Lord of the Skies) for his use of converted passenger aircraft to fly cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, Amado Carillo Fuentes took over Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel as well as some other Colombian drug cartels. This made him one of the richest drug bosses ever with an estimated fortune of over US $25 billion. In July 1997, Fuentes died of a heart attack in Mexico City’s private Santa Monica hospital after undergoing liposuction and plastic surgery to alter his appearance.
Mireya Moreno Carreon
Another woman to appear on the list, Mireya Moreno Carreon was one of the first females to make a name for herself in the feared Mexican Los Zetas drug cartel. She was responsible for all of the drug-trafficking hot spots in Monterrey, Mexico. She actually began as a police officer before joining up with the drug lords, and eventually became a boss of Los Zetas. She was arrested by authorities one year later while driving a stolen vehicle that held tons of drugs.
In the late 1980’s, Klaas Bruinsma, a notorious Dutch kingpin, was the biggest drug lord in Europe. At a certain point in time, his cartel yielded millions of dollars each day. After accumulating an incredible fortune, Bruinsma wanted to retire from the criminal world…but only after the last big deal, the “mother of all deals” as he called it. He imported 45 tons of black Pakistani cannabis, but the material was seized by the police. One year later, Bruinsma was shot dead by an organized crime member and former police officer Martin Hoogland.
Jose Figueroa Agosto
Also known as “Junior Capsula” and “the Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean,” Jose Figueroa Agosto was the head of a major drug trafficking organization that made 90% of cocaine in Puerto Rico. Agosto had been jailed for a murder and was serving a 209-year sentence in Puerto Rico; in 1999, he escaped from the prison. He was captured again in July 2010 by FBI agents and has been imprisoned since then. Besides his crimes committed in Puerto Rico, Agosto was also wanted in the Dominican Republic for kidnapping, money-laundering, and drug-trafficking.
Nicknamed “Boston George” and “El Americano,” George Jung is a former drug trafficker and smuggler who was a major player in the cocaine trade in the US in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Jung was arrested and received a 60-year sentence in 1994, of which he served 20 years before being released. However, after just 2 years of freedom, he was arrested again as he violated his parole. Jung’s life story was portrayed in the 2001 biopic (biographical) film “Blow,” starring Johnny Depp.
Rafael Caro Quintero
Born in 1952, Rafael Caro Quintero is a Mexican drug trafficker and one of the leaders of the Guadalajara Cartel, a forerunner of the notorious Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. In 1985, Quintero was convicted of ordering the torture and murder of a US anti-drugs agent and received a 40-year sentence. He was released after serving 28 years after the Mexican court ruled he should have been tried at a state level rather than on federal charges. The US, however, did not agree with the release and has been offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Quintero’s recapture.
Also known as “The Opium King,” Khun Sa was one of the most feared and powerful kingpins in Asia. He was the leader of smuggling operations in the Golden Triangle, an opium-producing area in Southeast Asia that included Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. At a certain point in time, the Golden Triangle was responsible for 70% of the world’s opium. At the height of his power in the 1980’s, Khun Sa also controlled an estimated 70% of the country’s heroin business, which enabled him to finance an army of tens of thousands of soldiers and large-scale heroin laboratories.
Nicknamed “Bhai,” Dawood Ibrahim is a notorious drug baron and gangster from Mumbai, India. Ibrahim has for years led a 5,000-member criminal syndicate known as D-Company. The organized crime group has engaged in everything from narcotics to contract killing, working mostly in Pakistan, India, and the United Arab Emirates. Ibrahim shares smuggling routes with al Qaeda and has collaborated with both al Qaeda and its South Asian affiliate, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which pulled off the November 2008 Mumbai Attacks.
Fabio Ochoa Vasquez
Along with his older brothers Juan David and Jorge Luis, Fabio Ochoa Vasquez was at one point leading the Medellin Cartel. While Juan David and Jorge Luis operated in Colombia, Fabio moved to Florida where he lived in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. He was alleged to have handled thousands of pounds of cocaine there. After serving a brief prison term in Colombia, he was arrested and extradited to the US in 1999, where he has been serving a 30-year term in a federal prison.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, be sure to check out 25 Most Brilliant Criminals in History!
Photos: 25. Luigi Novi, 11.14.08FrankLucasByLuigiNovi, CC BY 3.0, 24. /\ \/\/ /\ via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, 23-22. wikimedia commons (public domain), 21. en.wikimedia (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 20. alchetron.com (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 19. streetgangs.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 18. internacional.elpais.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 17. wikimedia commons (public domain), 16. Lbeck1945, William Leonard Pickard, CC BY-SA 4.0, 15. biography.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 14. Lamont Coleman, Christopher-Dudus-Coke, CC BY-SA 3.0, 13-12. wikimedia commons (public domain), 11. en.wikimedia, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 10. dailystar.co.uk, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 9. animalpolitico.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 8. latinone.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 7. dutchprisons.wordpress.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 6. listindiario.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 5. Nish242, Curciojung-01, CC BY-SA 4.0, 4. US Department of State photo (public domain), 3. Stephen Rice, Khun Sa (cropped), CC BY-SA 3.0, 2. thequint.com, (Fair use: no free images available; illustrative purposes only), 1. wikimedia commons (public domain)