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 might never be 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[edit | edit source]

Joaquín Guzmán Loera "El Chapo Guzmán"[edit | edit source]

File:Joaquin Guzman-Loera.jpg

Joaquín Guzmán Loera

Main article: Joaquín Guzmán Loera

According to the DEA, Loera is the biggest drug lord in history.[1] 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.[2]

He is considered a folk hero in the narcotics world, celebrated by musicians who write and perform "corridos," extolling his exploits.[3] For example, Los Buitres recorded a ballad extolling his life on the run:[4]

He sleeps at times in homes,

at times in tents
Radio and rifle at the foot
of the bed
Sometimes his roof is the cave

Pablo Escobar[edit | edit source]

Main article: Pablo Escobar

Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria (December 1, 1949 - December 2, 1993) was a Colombian drug lord. Often referred to as the "World's Greatest Outlaw," Pablo Escobar was perhaps the most elusive cocaine trafficker to have ever existed.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] It is said that Pablo Escobar once burnt two million dollars in cash just to keep warm while on the run.[8] It is these and some other infamous achievements that have made Escobar a legend in the world of crime.

Rick Ross[edit | edit source]

Main article: Ricky Ross (drug trafficker)
File:1061638749 rr-23.jpg

Freeway Rick Ross

Rick Ross (born January 26, 1960[9]), also known as "Freeway" Ricky Ross, is a convicted drug trafficker best known for the "drug empire" that he presided over in Los Angeles, in the early 1980s.[10] The nickname "Freeway" came from Ross's ownership of several properties along the Harbor Freeway. His old house he grew up in is where a freeway now stands.[11] During the height of his drug dealing, Ross claims 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."[12]

In 1996, Ross was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of trying to purchase more than 100 kilograms of cocaine from a federal agent. Ross became the subject of controversy later that year when a series of articles by journalist Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News brought to light a connection between one of Ross's cocaine sources, Danilo Blandon, and the CIA as part of the Iran-Contra scandal.[13] The decision in Ross's case was brought to a federal court of appeals where his sentence was reduced to 20 years. His sentence has since been reduced further for being a model prisoner and he was moved to a halfway house in California in March 2009, and was released on September 29, 2009.[14]

Manuel Noriega[edit | edit source]

Main article: Manuel Noriega
File:Manuel Noriega mug shot.jpg

Manuel Noriega, following his arrest by U.S. authorities.

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 contras, providing protection and pilots, as well as safe havens for drug cartel officials, and discreet banking facilities.[15]

William Leonard Pickard[edit | edit source]

Main article: 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[edit | edit source]

Main article: 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[edit | edit source]

Main article: Ramon Arellano Felix

was a Mexican drug trafficker whom authorities linked to the Tijuana drug cartel (aka the Arellano-Félix Organization).[16] 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[edit | edit source]

Main article: Ismael Zambada García

Zambada is hardly a household name, yet he has become the most wanted drug smuggler in Mexico,[17] 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[edit | edit source]

Main article: Klaas Bruinsma (drug lord)

Klaas Bruinsma was a major Dutch drug lord, shot to death by mafia member and former police officer Martin Hoogland. He was known as "De Lange" ("the tall one") and also as "De Dominee" ("the preacher") because of his black clothing and his habit of lecturing others.

File:Marcos Arturo Beltran Leyva.jpg

Arturo Beltran Leyva

Arturo Beltran Leyva[edit | edit source]

Main article: 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.[18][19] 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.[20] The organization is connected with the assassinations of numerous Mexican law enforcement officials.[20]

Frank Lucas[edit | edit source]


Frank Lucas

Main article: Frank Lucas (drug lord)

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,[21][22] but this claim is denied by his South Asian associate, Leslie "Ike" Atkinson.[23] His career was dramatized in the 2007 feature film American Gangster.

Leroy Barnes[edit | edit source]

Main article: Leroy Barnes

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.[24] In 2007 he released a book, “Mr Untouchable,” written with Tom Folsom and documentary DVD of the same name about his life.[25][26] In the 2007 film American Gangster Barnes is portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr..

Zhenli Ye Gon[edit | edit source]

Main article: Zhenli Ye Gon
File:YeGon millions.jpg

Zhenli's dirty money

Zhenli Ye Gon (traditional Chinese: 葉真理;[27] 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 and on 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 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. States was dismissed with prejudice in August 2009[28] as a result of the efforts of his attorneys, Manuel J. Retureta [29] and A. Eduardo Balarezo.[30]

Christopher 'Dudus' Coke[edit | edit source]

File:Christopher Coke.jpg

Christopher Coke

Main article: Christopher Coke

Michael Christopher Coke (born 13 March 1969),[31] also known as Dudus,[32] is a Jamaican drug lord and the leader of the Shower Posse gang building a fortune of over US$30 billion. 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.[32] Until the younger Coke's hand over to US forces on 24 June 2010,[citation needed] "Dudus" served as the de facto leader of Tivoli Gardens in the city of Kingston;[32] prior to his 2010 capture Jamaican police were unable to enter this neighborhood without community consent.[32]

The son of a prominent drug lord, Coke grew up wealthy, going to school with children of the country's political elite.[citation needed] 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.[33]

In 2009 the United States began requesting his extradition, and in May 2010 a recalcitrant Government of Jamaica issued a warrant.[32] That same month the government took steps to capture Coke. In a run-up to Coke's arrest, more than 70 people–security forces and civilians–died in a 24 May 2010 raid of the Kingston neighborhood he was associated with.[32] He was picked up at a Jamaican checkpoint on 22 June 2010.[32]


Demetrius Flenory

Demetrius 'Big Meech' Flenory[edit | edit source]

Main article: Demetrius 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.[34] At the height of his career, he became the highest-earning black drug lord in US history.[35][36]

Current trends[edit | edit source]

After the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993, the world of the drug lord had taken a major turn in its departing from massive cartels such as Juan David Ochoa's Medellín cartel. More recently, drug lords are breaking up the large cartels of the past into much smaller organizations of the future. In doing so, they not only decrease the number of people involved but also put a much smaller target on themselves—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 of the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and the DEA list also. These smaller cartels are slowly proving to be not only more profitable for those involved but also much safer.[37]

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 that enjoyed lightened jail life was Al Capone. Capone continued to run his business from his jail cell, a 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 also their ability to continue to run their businesses from behind bars.[21][38]

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. The only issue here is the worst criminals are often never 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.[22][23]

In fiction[edit | edit source]

Drug lords are a popular choice for the lead villain in many action movies and television shows, having been featured for such purposes in the Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys series and in TV series such as Miami Vice, Homicide: Life on the Street, and The Shield. A drug lord was prominent in the 1989 miniseries Traffik. Perhaps the most famous fictitious movie drug lords were Tony Montana, who was played by Al Pacino, and Alejandro Sosa, who was played by Paul Shenar, both in the movie Scarface.

Some popular portrayals of drug lords have been fictionalized accounts of real persons. A noted example of this are the films American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington as drug lord Frank Lucas and Blow, starring Johnny Depp as George Jung. Main character Klaas Jonkers from the Dutch movie The Preacher has been (partly) based on the Dutch drug lord Klaas Bruinsma.

Other notable fictional drug lords include most notably the unspecified Latin American Franz Sanchez, who was played by Robert Davi in the James Bond movie Licence to Kill, and the Colombian Orlando Calderone, played by Miguel Pinero who was the foil in the Miami Vice TV series.

Drug Lords are also featured in several videogames, most notably the Grand Theft Auto series,specially Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, in which Vice City is moy controlled by the drug lord Ricardo Diaz.

In the video game Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, King Sebolto of Malastare is a well known drug lord peddling death sticks all over the galaxy.

In 2 Fast 2 Furious, Carter Verone, (played by Cole Hauser) was a ruthless Argentian drug lord.

In the seventh season of NCIS, one of the recurring villains is Paloma Reynosa is the head of the fictional Reynosa drug cartel.

In the upcoming film Prince of Malacca, the main villain is a billionaire drug lord in a Southeast Asian drug cartel.

In the critically acclaimed drama series Breaking Bad, it showcases the story of a loving family man/high school chemistry teacher that transforms into a criminal drug lord.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2011/06/15/joaquin-guzman-has-become-the-biggest-drug-lord-ever/
  2. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0802119522
  3. "'He Leads a Gang of Mafioso Gunmen': Songs in Honor of Mexico's 'El Chapo'". The Wall Street Journal. June 13, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124482379191510287.html. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  4. Grayson, George (August 31, 2009). Mexico: narco-violence and a failed state?. Transaction Publishers. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-1-4128-1151-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=ogjkeCd7RGoC&pg=PA62&lpg=PA63. Retrieved 2010-12-01. 
  5. "Pablo Escobar Gaviria - English Biography - Articles and Notes". ColombiaLink.com. http://www.colombialink.com/01_INDEX/index_personajes/narcotrafico/escobar_gaviria_pablo_ing.html. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  6. Zschoche, Sören (April 18, 2008). "The 5 richest criminals of all time". World Financial Blog. http://www.worldfinancialblog.com/entertainment/the-5-richest-criminals-of-all-the-time. Retrieved May 9, 2011. 
  7. Dunn, Adam (May 31, 2001). "Reporter pursues Escobar story in 'Killing Pablo'". CNN. http://edition.cnn.com/2001/SHOWBIZ/books/05/31/killing.pablo/. Retrieved May 9, 2011. 
  8. "Pablo Escobar burnt £1m in cash to keep warm on the run". The Daily Telegraph (London). November 3, 2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/colombia/6493894/Pablo-Escobar-burnt-1m-in-cash-to-keep-warm-on-the-run.html. 
  9. "Inmate Locator: Ricky Ross". bop.gov. Federal Bureau of Prisons. http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinderServlet?Transaction=NameSearch&needingMoreList=false&FirstName=Ricky&Middle=&LastName=Ross&Race=U&Sex=U&Age=&x=95&y=6. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  10. "CIA Contra Crack Cocaine Controversy - D. Law Enforcement Investigations of Ross". USDOJ.gov. United States Department of Justice Archive. http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/9712/ch06p3.htm. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  11. Webb, Gary (August 19, 1996). "Shadowy origins of crack epidemic". San Jose Mercury News
  12. Oakland Tribune
  13. "NBC: Drugs and the CIA". YouTube. May 29, 2007.
  14. "Inmate Locator - Ricky Ross". bop.gov. Federal Bureau of Prisons. http://www.bop.gov/iloc2/InmateFinderServlet?Transaction=NameSearch&needingMoreList=false&LastName=ross&Middle=&FirstName=ricky&Race=U&Sex=U&Age=&x=13&. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  15. Lormand, Eric (May 8, 2007). "Panama: The Resume of Manuel Noriega". personal.umich.edu
  16. Steller, Tim (April 15, 1998). "Mexican drug runners may have used C-130 from Arizona". The Arizona Daily Star. Archived at California State University Northridge. Archived from the original on 2008-01-03. http://web.archive.org/web/20080103194935/http://www.csun.edu/CommunicationStudies/ben/news/cia/980415.steller.html. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  17. "Portrait Of A Mexican Drug Lord". CBS News. October 24, 2003. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/24/world/main579960.shtml. 
  18. "President Bush Designates Beltran Leyva and his Organization Under Kingpin Act". Embassy of the U.S. in Mexico. May 30, 2008. http://www.usembassy-mexico.gov/eng/releases/ep080530kingpin.html. Retrieved 2009-08-03. 
  19. Starr, Penny (April 14, 2009). "DEA Names Eleven 'Most Wanted' Mexican Fugitives Sought by U.S.". CNS News. Archived from the original on 2009-06-15. http://web.archive.org/web/20090615004009/http://www.cnsnews.com/public/Content/Article.aspx?rsrcid=46528. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 "Narcotics Rewards Program: Marcos Arturo Beltran-Leyva". U.S. Department of State. 2008. http://www.state.gov/p/inl/narc/rewards/133310.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Vincent, Isabel (January 29, 2006). "Where the drug lords are Kings". Academic Search Premier. 120. Maclean's. pp. 23–24, 2p, 3c.. http://www.macleans.ca/world/global/article.jsp?content=20070129_140042_140042. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 "Mexico extradites 'unprecedented' number of drug lords to U.S.". USA Today. January 20, 2007. Retrieved November 12, 2011.
  23. 23.0 23.1 McKinley Jr.,, James C. (February 9, 2005). "Drug Lord, Ruthless and Elusive, Reaches High in Mexico". New York Times. Academic Search Premier 154 (53120): p. A3, 1/3p, 1 map, 2bw.. https://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/09/international/americas/09chapo.html. Retrieved 2007-04-18. 
  24. Sam Roberts (March 4, 2007). "Crime’s ‘Mr. Untouchable’ Emerges From Shadows". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/nyregion/04nicky.html. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  25. Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, Tom Folsom. Mr. Untouchable: My Crimes and Punishments (March 6, 2007 ed.). Rugged Land. p. 352. ISBN 1-59071-041-X. 
  26. Mr. Untouchable (2007) at the Internet Movie Database
  27. "Profile: Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela". BBC. December 4, 2004. Retrieved November 12, 2011.
  28. Jeffery, Jeff (August 28, 2009). "Federal Judge Dismisses Ye Gon Case With Prejudice". Legal Times. http://legaltimes.typepad.com/blt/2009/08/federal-judge-dismisses-ye-gon-case-with-prejudice-.html. Retrieved May 12, 2011. 
  29. "Returetawassem.com" Manuel J. Retureta.
  30. "Balarezo.net". A. Eduardo Balarezo.
  31. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100524/lead/lead4.html
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 32.5 32.6 Schwartz, Mattathias (12/12), "A Massacre in Jamaica", The New Yorker: 62–71, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/12/12/111212fa_fact_schwartz, retrieved 12/26/2011 
  33. Extraditing Coke. Al Jazeera. June 30, 2010.
  34. "Black Mafia Family Members Sentenced to 30 Years". September 12, 2008. Drug Enforcement Administration. Press release.
  35. "Film in works about Detroit gangster Demetrius Flenory, Black Mafia Family" . June 25, 2011. Examiner.comTemplate:Dubious
  36. Clark, Kevin L. (June 24, 2011). "The 'Black Mafia Family' Movie Is Coming To A Theater Near You!". complex.com, Complex Media.
  37. "Special: Drug organization profiles". CNN. Retrieved May 8, 2007
  38. Kershaw, Sarah (February 20, 2006). "Dizzying Rise and Abrupt Fall For a Reservation Drug Lord". New York Times. Academic Search Premier 155 (53496): p. A1-A10, 2p, 2c.. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/20/national/20gena.html?pagewanted=all. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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