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5 Biggest Drug Kingpins and How They Were Taken Down

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

This week, drug lord and escape artist Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was found guilty on 10 counts of drug trafficking and is expected to receive life without parole. But those 10 charges fail to encompass the decades-long career of a man who murdered rival cartel heads, escaped twice from Mexican high-security jails, and amassed an estimated $15 billion dollars in drug revenues.

That got us thinking about other notorious drug traffickers, so here's our list of five of the biggest kingpins of all time, and how they were brought to justice.

1. "El Chapo"

The nickname translates to "Shorty", but the man who led the Sinaloa cartel was once considered "the most ruthless, dangerous, and feared man on the planet," and the only person other than Al Capone to be designated "Public Enemy Number One" by the Chicago Crime Commission. He was apprehended twice, in Guatemala and Mexico, but escaped from prison both times. His third capture resulted in his extradition to the United States, and his sentencing is expected in June.

2. "Freeway" Ricky Ross

During the height of Ross's reign as the premier cocaine kingpin of California in the 80s, he trafficked several metric tons in and out of L.A., and claims to have sold $3 million worth of drugs in just one day. Ross was nabbed in a federal sting operation, and sentenced to life in prison under the state's three-strikes law. But he appealed and had his sentence reduced to 20 years after a federal appeals court found the law had been incorrectly applied.

3. Griselda Blanco

Also referred to as La Madrina, the Black Widow, the Cocaine Godmother and the Queen of Narco-Trafficking, Blanco controlled cocaine trafficking into Miami for the Colombian Medellin Cartel for almost 20 years, starting in the 1980s. Blanco even continued running her drug operation from a Miami prison after being arrested by the DEA. At one point she was facing multiple murder counts, but the case fell apart after "the star witness was caught paying secretaries in the Dade County prosecutor's office for phone sex." Blanco was eventually deported, and then killed in Colombia in 2012.

4. Frank Lucas

Immortalized by Denzel Washington in "American Gangster," Frank Lucas allegedly got his start shipping heroin from Southeast Asia in the coffins of dead American servicemen. Originally sentenced to 70 years behind bars after the DEA raided his New Jersey home in 1975, Lucas traded information leading to hundreds of drug trafficking convictions for witness protection and lifetime parole.

5. Pablo Escobar

The kingpin to end all kingpins, Escobar was killed in a shootout with U.S.-backed Colombian police task force in 1993. Before that, Escobar was responsible for an estimated 80 percent of all cocaine smuggled in the United States, amassing what would be worth $50 billion in profits in today's dollars.

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