Even though they say crime doesn’t pay, several rich gangsters prove otherwise. While most end up dead or in jail, a very lucky few get to spend their money. In the early part of the 20th Century, gangsters made a lot of money selling liquor during prohibition. In the seventies many gangsters made a killing off heroin. Nowadays, the richest gangsters make their money from importing cocaine from Colombia through Mexico and into the U.S. While it is hard to determine the exact wealth of these masterminds, here are the 10 richest gangsters of all time:
10. Frank Lucas
Frank Lucas capitalized off the heroin trade in the 1960s and 1970s by using an East Asian connection during the Vietnam war, cutting off the Italian mafia who controlled the trade in his Harlem at the time. Lucas, originally from North Carolina, employed members of his family to take over the heroin trade in New York and New Jersey. Lucas would claim to have sold one million dollars worth of heroin a day in his prime and claimed to have a net worth of over $52 million on top of a large supply of liquid assets, namely heroin.
9. Griselda Blanco
Griselda Blanco, also known as the Black Widow or The Cocaine Queen Of Miami, was a drug lord for the Colombian Medellin cartel. She controlled the cocaine trade through violence and intimidation making $80 million a month during the ’70s and ’80s. Reports claim that at her peak Griselda Blanco had more than a half a billion dollars. After serving 10 years in jail on drug charges, Blanco would return to her native Colombia.
8. Al Capone
Al Capone is perhaps the most notorious gangster of all time, and also one of the richest. During prohibition, Capone controlled the illegal alcohol, prostitution and gambling rackets in Chicago which brought in $100 million a year at its prime. Capone’s money allowed him to bribe police officials, judges and even the Mayor of Chicago. Unfortunately, he could not bribe the IRS who convicted him of tax evasion in 1932 and sentenced him to 11 years in prison.
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7. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera
“El Chapo” is one of Mexico’s most infamous drug lords. He is the head of the Sinaloa cartel which smuggles in billion of dollars from Colombia through Mexico and into the United States. Guzman became rich enough to make Forbes list of 1000 wealthiest people in the world as well as their top 60 most powerful people in the world, with a net worth of over 5 billion dollars. Guzman was jailed in 1993 but escaped from prison in 2001 and is currently number one of the FBI’s most wanted list with $5 million award for his capture.
6. Anthony “Fat Tony” Salermo
Italian Mobster “Fat Tony” Salermo made his millions running the numbers and drugs racket in East Harlem after most other Italian mobsters left the area as it became more Black and Latino in the 1960s making tens of millions of dollars. As the front man for the Genovese crime family, Salermo was named the America’s Top Gangster by Fortune Magazine in 1986 due to his wealth of more than one billion dollars and influence. In 1988 Salermo was convicted of racketeering charges and was sentenced to 70 years in prison.
5. Carlos Lehder
Lehder was one of the founders of the Colombian Medillin Cartel. While in prison Lehder met Boston-born drug trafficker, George Jung, who helped him import and distribute cocaine from his native Colombia into the United States accumulating $2.7 Billion. Cocaine made Lehder so rich that he owned his own island in the Bahamas and offered to pay of Colombia’s debt. Lehder would eventually be extradited to the United States and sentenced to life in prison which was reduced after he agreed to testify against former Panamanian President, Manuel Noriega in 1992.
4. Meyer Lansky
Lansky was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who would make a fortune of gambling, both legal and illegal. Lansky would join notorious gangsters, Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Ben “Bugsy” Siegel to run a gang that would be known as Murder Inc. Lansky would later turn to focus on gambling setting up operations in Florida, Las Vegas and Cuba before the Cuban revolution.In 1982, Forbes would name him as one of the 400 richest people in America. Lansky would be indicted for tax evasion and fled to Israel. He would later return to the U.S. to face charges and was acquitted in 1974. Lanksy would die a free man in Miami at age 83.
3. Joseph Kennedy
Joseph Kennedy is the patriarch of one of America’s most powerful and prestigious families. One of his sons became President, another District Attorney and presidential candidate and another a Senator. At his peak Kennedy was one of the richest men in America but as the saying goes behind every great fortune, there is a great crime. Kennedy was already in the liquor business before prohibition but according to several books and gangsters, became a bootlegger with ties to the New York and Chicago underworlds after liquor was made illegal. After prohibition was ended Kennedy made a fortune off selling legitimate liquor as well as through Hollywood and the stock market. Kennedy was named one of the 20 richest people in America in 1954 by Fortune Magazine and had a net worth of more than $300 Million, which would be in the high billions today . It has been reported that Kennedy contacted mobster Frank Costello, who was known to brag that he was a bootlegger with Kennedy, to use another mobster, Chicago’s Sam Giancana to help his son John get elected through his ties to Chicago and the unions.
2. Pablo Escobar
Escobar is perhaps the most notorious drug lord of the modern era. He ran the Medellin Cartel which imported billions of dollars of cocaine into the United States. Pablo’s money brought him great power as we was able to bribe officials or have them killed if they wouldn’t take his bribes. Forbes Magazine named Escobar the 7th richest man in the world with a net worth of $25 Billion. In 1993, Escobar was killed by Colombian forces with US assistance, after he escaped from a Colombian prison.
1. Amado Carrillo Fuentes
Amado Carrillo Fuentes was the head of the Mexican Juarez Cartel. He was known as “Lord Of The Skies” due to his private fleet of planes, including 22 private 727 jet airliners which were used to import cocaine from Colombia to Mexico where it was later smuggled into the United States. Fuentes had an estimated net value of $25 billion almost twice as much as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the DEA called him the most powerful drug trafficker of his era. He would die while undergoing plastic surgery to alter his appearance in 1997.