A drug lord, drug baron, kingpin, or narcotrafficker is a person who controls a sizable network of persons involved in the illegal drug trade. Such figures are often difficult to bring to justice, as they are never directly in possession of something illegal, but are insulated from the actual trade in drugs by several layers of underlings. The prosecution of drug lords is therefore usually the result of carefully planned infiltrations of their networks, often using informants from within the organization.
Notable drug lords
Rakesh Jyoti Saran
Rakesh Jyoti Saran, also known as "Black Panther, is a convicted drug trafficker best known for the "Illegal Internet Pharmacy " that he presided over in Arlington, Texas, in the late 1990s. Saran along with others took orders for prescription drugs online and then shipped them to people across the country, raking in an average profit of more than $50,000 a day." According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, "prosecutors estimate that Saran bought $1 million worth of controlled substances each month, handled 15,000 customers weekly and filling more than 3,000 orders for controlled substances each day. Saran made more than $200 million in the process.". Additionally, Saran also sold promethazine cough syrup with codeine, hydrocodone and alprazolam illegally to individuals on the streets profiting more than $20 million.
In 2009, Saran was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment and ordered to pay $68 million in restitution after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and other federal offences, two counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. According to plea papers filed in court, Saran operated 23 Texas-incorporated pharmacies through two firms he owned, Carrington Healthcare Systems and Infinity Services Group. As part of Saran's plea agreement, Saran forfeited assets earned from his illegal activities, including more than $1,000,000 in cash seized at his residence, over $375,000 found in bank accounts, $390,000 in cashiers' checks and money orders, several vehicles and a Mega Mansion in Arlington which is over 23,000sqft estimated at $6,000,000.
Joaquin Guzman Loera
According to the DEA, Loera is the biggest drug lord in history. He is well known for his use of sophisticated tunnels—similar to the one located in Douglas, Arizona—to smuggle cocaine from Mexico into the United States in the early 1990s. In 1993 a 7.3 ton shipment of his cocaine, concealed in cans of chili peppers and destined for the United States, was seized in Tecate, Baja California. In 1993 he barely escaped an ambush by the Tijuana Cartel led by Ramon Arellano Felix and his gunmen. Captured in Guatemala, he was jailed in 2001 and placed in a maximum security prison called Puente Grande, but paid his way out of prison and hid in a laundry van as it drove through the gates. On 22 February 2014, Loera was arrested. He is considered a folk hero in the narcotics world, celebrated by musicians who write and perform "narcocorridos," extolling his exploits. For example, Los Traviezos recorded a ballad extolling his life on the run: In July 2015, Guzman escaped a second time from a maximum-security prison through a hole in a shower floor that led to a 1-mile tunnel, ending at a nearby house. A large-scale manhunt ensued. On 8 January 2016, Loera was captured by the Mexican Marines .
Jorge Alberto Rodriguez
Jorge Alberto Rodríguez, also known as Don Cholito born on 19 November 1971 or 19 April 1966 or 8 December 1962; Cedula No. 79290554 (Colombia); Passport 79290554 (Colombia) [SDNT] is a notorious Colombian/Puerto Rican drug lord from Bronx, NY who headed The 400 criminal organization, a dismantled secret cell of the Cali Cartel. Pulled into the drug trade at just 12 years old, he left home at age 14 to begin working for his father, Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, who headed the infamous Cali Cartel. By the time he was 18 he had made hundreds of millions shipping drugs in from Colombia to nearly every State in the United States and was one of the most ruthless international drug lords unknown to law enforcement or governments. During that time the nation’s murder rate and cocaine-related hospital emergencies doubled. He was arrested in 1990 in Tallahassee, Florida and sentenced to a 25-year prison term for a number of federal violations. Following his conviction, Jorge continued to operate his illicit business from behind bars, importing as much as 12,500 kilograms into the U.S. every month, including ordering numerous murders of informants, witnesses and law enforcement officials in the U.S. and in Colombia. He reigned and flourished while incarcerated until he was placed in court-ordered high security isolation in 1994.
Pablo Escobar Gaviria (December 1, 1949 - December 2, 1993) was a Colombian drug overlord. Often referred to as the "World's Greatest Outlaw," Pablo Escobar was perhaps the most elusive cocaine trafficker to have ever existed. He is regarded as the richest and most successful criminal in history because, in the year 1989, Forbes magazine declared Escobar as the seventh richest man in the world, with an estimated personal fortune of US$25 billion. He owned innumerable luxury residences and automobiles and in 1986 he attempted to enter Colombian politics, even offering to pay off the nation's $10 billion national debt. It is said that Pablo Escobar once burnt two million dollars in cash just to keep warm while on the run. It is these and some other infamous achievements that have made Escobar a legend in the world of crime.
Roberto Suarez Goméz
Rick Ross (born January 26, 1960, also known as "Freeway" Ricky Ross, is a convicted drug trafficker best known for the drug empire he presided over in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. The nickname "Freeway" came from Ross growing up next to the 110 Harbor Freeway. During the height of his drug dealing, Ross was said to have made "$2 million in one day." According to the Oakland Tribune, "In the course of his rise, prosecutors estimate that Ross exported several tons of cocaine to New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, and made more than $600 million in the process."
In 1998, Ross was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of purchasing more than 100 kilograms of cocaine from a federal agent during a sting operation. Ross became the subject of controversy later that year when a series of articles by journalist Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News revealed a connection between Ross's main cocaine source, Danilo Blandon, and the CIA as part of the Iran-Contra affair. Ross's case went before the federal court of appeals and his sentence was reduced to 20 years because he was over-sentenced. He was later moved to a halfway house in March 2009 and released from custody on September 29, 2009.
For more than a decade, Panamanian Manuel Noriega was a highly paid CIA asset and collaborator, despite knowledge by U.S. drug authorities as early as 1971 that the general was heavily involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. Noriega facilitated "guns-for-drugs" flights for the Nicaraguan Contras, whom the US were heavily supporting, providing protection and pilots, as well as safe havens for drug cartel officials, and discreet banking facilities. He was arrested in 1990.
William Leonard Pickard
From 1988 until his arrest in 2000, William Leonard Pickard served as the top manufacturer of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in the world. At the time of his arrest it was estimated that Pickards organization was responsible for as many as 10 million doses of LSD per month, with an estimated street value in excess of $40 million USD. US officials reported a 90% drop in the global supply of LSD following his arrest.
Amado Carrillo Fuentes
As the top drug trafficker in Mexico, Carrillo was transporting four times more cocaine to the U.S. than any other trafficker in the world, building a fortune of over US $25 billion. He was called El Señor de los Cielos ("The Lord of the Skies") for his pioneering use of over 22 private 727 jet airliners to transport Colombian cocaine to municipal airports, and dirt airstrips around Mexico, including Juárez. In the months before his death, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration described Carrillo as the most powerful drug trafficker of his era, and many analysts claimed profits neared $25 billion, making him one of the world's wealthiest men.
Ramon Arellano Felix
Arellano Felix was a Mexican drug trafficker, which authorities linked to the Tijuana drug cartel (aka the Arellano-Félix Organization). At 188 cm (6 foot 2 inch) and 100 kg (220 lb), Arellano Félix was allegedly one of the most ruthless members of the cartel and was a suspect in various murders. Arellano Félix had been linked by Mexican police to the 1997 massacre of twelve members of a family outside of Ensenada, Baja California. The family was related to a drug dealer that had an unpaid debt to the Arellano Félix Cartel. On September 18, 1997, Ramon Arellano Félix became the 451st fugitive to be placed to the Ten Most Wanted list. Leading to his Most Wanted Fugitive listing in the United States, he had been charged in a sealed indictment in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, with Conspiracy to Import Cocaine and Marijuana in drug trafficking.
Ismael Zambada García
Zambada is hardly a household name, yet he has become the most wanted drug smuggler in Mexico, and is expected to be added soon to the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and DEA most wanted list, U.S. and Mexico drug agents told AP. Mexico's top anti-drug prosecutor, José Santiago Vasconcelos, called Zambada "drug dealer No. 1" and said the fugitive has become more powerful as his fellow kingpins have fallen, including one who was allegedly killed on Zambada's orders.
Klaas Bruinsma (1953–1991) was a major Dutch drug lord, shot to death by mafia member and former police officer Martin Hoogland. Bruinsma was known as "De Lange" ("the tall one") and as "De Dominee" ("the preacher") because of his black clothing and his habit of lecturing others.
Arturo Beltran Leyva
(Marcos) Arturo Beltrán Leyva (September 27, 1961 – December 16, 2009) was the leader of the Mexican drug trafficking organization known as the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, which is headed by the Beltrán Leyva brothers: Marcos Arturo, Carlos, Alfredo and Héctor. The cartel is responsible for cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine production, transportation and wholesaling. It controls numerous drug trafficking corridors into the United States and is also responsible for human smuggling, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, murder, contract killing, torture, gun-running and other acts of violence against men, women, and children in Mexico. The organization is connected with the assassinations of numerous Mexican law enforcement officials.
Frank Lucas is a former heroin dealer and organized crime boss who operated in Harlem during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was particularly known for cutting out middlemen in the drug trade and buying heroin directly from his source in the Golden Triangle. Lucas boasted that he smuggled heroin using the coffins of dead American servicemen, but this claim is denied by his South Asian associate, Leslie "Ike" Atkinson. His career was dramatized in the 2007 feature film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington.
Leroy Antonio "Nicky" Barnes (born October 15, 1933) is a former drug lord and crime boss, who led the notorious African-American crime organization known as The Council, which controlled the heroin trade in Harlem, New York during the 1970s. In 2007 he released a book, "Mr Untouchable", written with Tom Folsom and documentary DVD of the same name about his life. In the 2007 film American Gangster Barnes is portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr.
Zhenli Ye Gon
Zhenli Ye Gon (traditional Chinese: 葉真理; born January 31, 1963, Shanghai, People's Republic of China) is a Mexican businessman of Chinese origin accused of trafficking pseudoephedrine into Mexico from Asia. At the time of his arrest he had 207 million U.S. dollars cash, along with 18 million Mexican pesos in his house. He also claimed that he was forced by Javier Lozano Alarcón, putatively identified as the Secretary of Labor, to keep it at his home, and that this money would be used during Felipe Calderón's presidential campaign in 2006. He is the legal representative of Unimed Pharm Chem México. The charges against him were dismissed with prejudice in August 2009 as a result of the efforts of his attorneys, Manuel J. Retureta and A. Eduardo Balarezo.
Christopher 'Dudus' Coke
Michael Christopher Coke (born 13 March 1969), also known as Dudus, is a Jamaican drug lord and the leader of the Shower Posse gang. He is the youngest son of drug lord Lester Lloyd Coke whose extradition had also–prior to his 1992 death in a Jamaican prison cell–been requested by the US. Until the younger Coke's hand over to US forces on 24 June 2010, "Dudus" served as the de facto leader of Tivoli Gardens in the city of Kingston; prior to his 2010 capture Jamaican police were unable to enter this neighborhood without community consent.
The son of a prominent drug lord, Coke grew up wealthy, going to school with children of the country's political elite. Ruling the gang where his father left off, he became a leader in the community of Tivoli Gardens, distributing money to the area's poor, creating employment and setting up community centers.
In 2009 the United States began requesting his extradition, and in May 2010 a recalcitrant Government of Jamaica issued a warrant. That same month the government took steps to capture Coke. In a run-up to Coke's arrest, more than 70 people–all but one of them civilians–died in a 24 May 2010 raid of the Kingston neighborhood he was associated with. He was picked up at a Jamaican checkpoint on 22 June 2010.
Demetrius 'Big Meech' Flenory
One of the co-founders of the Black Mafia Family, a Detroit-based drug trafficking organization involving the large scale distribution of cocaine throughout the United States from 1990 through 2005. There are currently plans to produce a film based upon his career.
After the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993 the world of the drug lord had taken a major turn, departing from massive cartels such as Juan David Ochoa's Medellín cartel. Drug lords have begun breaking up the large cartels of the past into much smaller organizations and, in so doing, they both decrease the number of people involved as well as significantly shrink their role as targets—most likely in an attempt to avoid the fate of their predecessors. With newer technology, drug lords are able to manage their operations more effectively from behind the scenes, keeping themselves out of the spotlight and off the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and DEA wanted lists. These smaller cartels are slowly proving to be more profitable for those involved as well as much safer.
Up until the demise of Pablo Escobar, in many instances drug lords essentially ran the governments of the locations they controlled (through bribery and assassinations), and everything associated with them. However, as the years press forward, this way of controlling their operations is becoming less prevalent. One of the most notorious examples of the treatment given to drug lords is in the incarceration of Escobar. Although Escobar was, after turning himself in, jailed for his participation in drug trafficking in Colombia, the "jail" in which he was captive was a million-dollar palace built with his own funds. Another famous crime lord who enjoyed lightened jail life was Al Capone, who continued to run his business from his jail cell, that contained tables, chairs, a bed, flowers, and paintings. To drug lords of the past jail was simply a way to avoid further persecution.
In recent times, this has also changed—no longer are drug lords in control of local and regional governments. This causes them to give up some of their control over their surroundings and their ability to continue to run their businesses from behind bars.
Another trend that has been emerging in the last decade is the willingness of local authorities to cooperate with foreign nations, most notably the United States, in an effort to apprehend and incarcerate drug lords. Recently (especially in the last five years), countries have been more and more willing to extradite their drug lords to face charges in other countries, an act that not only benefits them directly but also gives them favor with foreign governments. "In 2006 Mexico extradited 63 drug dealers to the US," a record number for them. However, some criminals are not extradited as Mexico and other countries refuse to send people who would be facing the death penalty at their destination, as it is not legal in those countries.
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