El Chapo and the 12 Richest Drug Lords of All Time

Below you can find the list of 10 richest drug lords of all time (click to skip ahead and see the top 5 richest drug lords of all time).

Seven years ago the city of Chicago named Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman its first public enemy number one since Al Capone. That's a big deal. You probably don't know this but Chicago is the number one drug distribution hub for Mexican drug cartels (see the top 13 US cities crowded by Mexican drug cartels) in the United States. Chicago also ranks #1 in our list of the top 10 U.S. cities with highest number of murders. Does El Chapo deserve this kind of public acknowledgment? How does he compare to other drug lords in terms of estimated wealth?

El Chapo
El Chapo

Obviously drug lords aren't good at filing taxes and keeping accounting records, which is why we don't really have the exact figures for their wealth. That's why we are going to use guesstimates from various sites in our rankings. Our original plan was to use at least two independent sources for each drug lord to calculate our guesstimates. After we started looking for guesstimates, we noticed that a 2012 Business Insider article was used as the "main source" for most of the articles that are on page 1 of Google search results. For example, Al Capone's wealth in 2012 was reported at $1.3 billion by Business Insider. Several other website reported the same number several years later. Obviously these reporters aren't aware of inflation and time value of money. We will be using inflation adjusted numbers in our article. Consumer Price Index in 2012 was 229.6 and increased to 259.9 in 2020. That means $1.3 billion in 2012 is equivalent to nearly $1.47 billion in 2020.

El Chapo isn't the biggest and the richest drug kingpin of all time by a long shot. He is getting all this publicity because we live in the social media age. In 2019 federal prosecutors estimated in their court documents that El Chapo handled 600,000 kilograms of cocaine and 420,000 kilograms of marijuana. The cocaine was valued at more than $11 billion and the marijuana was valued at $846 million. The total estimate for El Chapo's "gross drug sale proceeds" since early 1990s was less than $12.7 billion. This isn't his profit, this is his total revenue in a business that's extremely expensive to run.

Bruce Bagley, a 74-year old University of Miami professor, estimated El Chapo's net worth between $2-4 billion and we think he was being generous. By the way, Bruce Bagley, the expert on Mexican drug cartels, was charged with money laundering in 2019. He pleaded guilty to helping to launder $2.5 million in exchange for a $250,000 payment. We would have asked him about his latest estimates for El Chapo's wealth but he probably has other things on his mind as he is scheduled to be sentenced on October 1st.

We are going to assume El Chapo's wealth at $3 billion. Now, let's take a look at the 10 richest drug lords of all time.

12. Al Capone: $1.47 Billion

Al Capone's net worth was estimated at $1.3 billion in 2012. That's worth $1.47 billion in today's money. However, you should keep in mind that we are just inflation adjusting this number. If we had invested Al Capone's money into an S&P Index fund, he probably would have been the richest gangster today.

11. Griselda Blanco: $2.26 Billion

La Madrina, The Godmother of Cocaine was killed in 2012. It is actually a big accomplishment on her part to manage to survive until the age of 69 in this business. You may be worth $2.26 billion but you can't really live like a billionaire.

10. El Chapo: $3 Billion

We already discussed El Chapo's wealth estimates. This is probably an overestimation, but even if El Chapo's net worth is $2.3 billion, he still would be the 10th richest drug lord of all time.

9. Carlos Lehder: $3.05 Billion

Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas is the co-founder of the Medellin Cartel and still alive. He spent 33 years in prison and was recently released.

8. The Orejuela Bros: $3.39 Billion

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela was the leader of the Colombian Cali Cartel and is currently serving a 30-year sentence in the United States. He is seeking early release from prison because he suffers from prostate and colon cancer. His brother Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela is also serving a prison sentence at a federal prison in Pennsylvania. We count them among the most successful drug lords because even though they can't enjoy their immense wealth, they agreed to a plea deal with the U.S. prosecutors that gave immunity to more than a two dozen of family members.

6. (tied) Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha: $5.65 Billion

Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha was one of the leaders of the Medellin Cartel and was actually included in Forbes' billionaires list in 1988. He was killed in 1989.

6. (tied) Khun Sa: $5.65 Billion

The "Opium King" is the most successful drug lord as he retired in 1996 and enjoyed his wealth for a good 11 years until his death. His children are wealthy business people in Myanmar today.

Click to continue reading and see the top 5 richest drug lords of all time.

Disclosure: El Chapo and the 12 Richest Drug Lords of All Time is originally published at Insider Monkey.