Even though we all managed to learn a bit about some of the world’s richest gangsters thanks to recent movies and TV shows, most of these productions only managed to scratch the surface when it comes to the complex personalities of these highly successful individuals. Some of them played the system, others took advantage of growing drug markets, and some even carved their own drug empires from scratch, but the one thing that they had in common is that they were all very good at their “jobs.”
They had charisma and confidence, and whether they chose to run their business through fear, respect or a combination of both, they managed to amass immense fortunes, some of which added up to billions of dollars. Below you will find a top 10 regarding the richest gangsters of all time, including the likes of Pablo Escobar, El Chapo, and Al Capone.
10. Frank Lucas
American former heroin dealer Frank Lucas operated in Harlem in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What made him one of the most successful drug dealers of all time is that he had a habit of cutting out middlemen and purchasing heroin directly from his own source in the Golden Triangle. His life sparked so much interest that Universal Pictures eventually made a film about it starring Denzel Washington. The movie was fittingly named American Gangster, and it received mostly positive feedback after its release.
Down to the matter at hand, Frank Lucas had estimated assets of around $52 million, which is enormous even for today’s standards. However, compared to the kingpins that follow up on our list, he looks more like a rookie.
9. Joseph Kennedy Sr.
Even though he’s not the most notorious gangster in the world, or maybe not even a gangster in the true sense of the word, Joseph Kennedy Sr. was surrounded by conspiracies. Some of these rumors suggest that he tipped off voters, others indicate that he employed gangsters to scare off politicians, while other sources claim that he rigged elections.
Most importantly, however, is that he allegedly became a bootlegger affiliated with the New York and Chicago underworlds. That’s probably how he managed to earn his $300 million fortune.
8. Meyer Lanksy
Meyer Lansky came to the United States all the way from Poland, and he really pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He made a killing from gambling, and he eventually joined up with Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Ben “Bugsy” Siegel in order to run the Murder Inc. organized crime mob. Now that’s a catchy name!
After he was indicted for tax evasion, Lansky went off to Israel, but he eventually returned to the U.S. to face those charges, and he was even acquitted in 1974. He died in Miami at 83, a free man with $600 million to his name.
7. Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno
What kind of a list would this be without a good old-fashioned mob boss? Well, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno is one of the most successful gangsters that ever lived, and he made most of his money through the largest numbers racket operation in New York. This business brought in $50 million per year, and even though there aren’t any exact figures regarding his overall wealth, he managed to gather more than $1 billion.
In 1986, Salerno was the front man for the Genovese crime family, and Fortune Magazine named him “America’s Top Gangster.”
6. Al Capone
Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone is, hands down, one of the most famous gangsters in the world. He became immensely successful during the American Prohibition, and he was the co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit. As with most gangsters, his reign did not last too long, but seven years were definitely enough to secure his fame forever.
He was arrested by FBI agents on March 27, 1929, but it wasn’t until May 1932 that he was finally sent to the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary. He was 33 at the time, but he was already suffering from various diseases, as well as cocaine withdrawal. After being moved to Alcatraz, he was eventually paroled on November 16, 1939. Over the course of his life, Al Capone managed to amass assets of $1.3 billion.
5. Griselda Blanco
Griselda Blanco was a woman that you did not want to mess with. Also known as the Black Widow, La Madrina, the Queen of Narco-Trafficking or the Cocaine Godmother, she was a fierce Colombian drug lord of the Medellin Cartel during the 1970s and 1980s. Reports indicate that she was responsible for up to 200 murders during her transports of cocaine from Colombia to Miami and New York.
Modern-day media included Griselda Blanco in various documentaries, but you’ll probably want to see the upcoming Godmother film, in which she will be portrayed by none other than Catherine Zeta-Jones. When it comes to riches, Blanco managed to amass about $2 billion during her “career.”
4. Carlos Lehder
As one of the original founders of the Colombian Medellín Cartel, Carlos Lehder eventually became so rich that he managed to buy his own island in the Bahamas, and he even offered to pay Colombia’s national debt twice. He is also the founder of the “Muerte a Secuestradores” (“MAS”) paramilitary group, which focused on retaliation against the kidnappings of cartel members or their family members.
Currently incarcerated at the age of 67, Lehder testified against former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega in 1992 in order to receive a reduced sentence. As far as his fortune goes, the numbers add up to $2.7 billion.
3. Joaquin El Chapo
Turns out El Chapo’s quite a slippery guy, but before he managed to escape from prison, albeit briefly, he was one of the most powerful and brutal gangsters in Mexico, and maybe the world.
His real name is Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, but he was nicknamed El Chapo due to his rather modest height of 1.68m. Even though he’s currently imprisoned at the age of 61, he’s still the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and his drug empire was reportedly worth $5 billion at the peak of its productivity.
2. Amado Carrillo Fuentes
After he somehow managed to assassinate the boss of the Juárez Cartel, Rafael Aguilar Guajardo, Amado Carrillo Fuentes took over and eventually became one of the wealthiest criminals in history. He was also known as “El Señor de Los Cielos” (Lord of the Skies) because he owned an incredibly large fleet of jets that he used to transport his narcotics. Fuentes died in 1997 at the rather young age of 40, but that’s because he died of complications while receiving facial plastic surgery and liposuction. Needless to say, the doctors who performed these procedures were not better off, as they were later found encased in concrete inside steel drums.
As for that wealth that we mentioned before, Amando Carrillo Fuentes has an estimated worth of $25 billion. Wow!
1. Pablo Escobar
As the undisputed boss of the Medellín Cartel, Pablo Escobar is the most successful gangster of all time. He specialized in the manufacturing and distribution of cocaine, and he even had political aspirations at some point. Even though he helped impoverished regions at first, and earned a lot of respect in the process, his following actions labeled him as a violent and power-hungry man.
He was responsible for the bombing of a Bogota shopping area, and for the bombing of Avianca Airlines Flight 203. He was eventually shot and killed by Colombian forces helped by U.S. agents. His legacy? Pure terror and $30 billion.