Does Crime pay? Not really. While some of the criminals listed below have transacted hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars of drugs or illegal money, when the long arm of the law finally catches up with them, they are stripped of the proceeds of crime. Their estimated net worth certainly does not reflect the supposed wealth they had when they were active!
20. Charles Manson
Charles Manson of the Manson Family was put away for life, spending time in a Federal prison from 1972 to 2017. Originally, he was sentenced to death for the murder or and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people, one of them was film actress Sharon Tate, the then-wife of Roman Polanski.
Manson aspired to be a singer and musician and wrote some music. The Beach Boys did a cover of one of his songs. Culturally, his notoriety gave birth to a whole sub-culture, and Manson was said to have made money selling items bearing his image and name through websites he controlled while in prison. While we will never know the truth of that, it is reported that at the time of his death in 2017, he had a personal net worth of some $400,000.
19. Nicky Barnes
He was head of a drug syndicate called The Council which operated in the Harlem area of New York City in the 70s. The Council became an international drug trafficking ring when it partnered with the Italian American mafia. Barnes was arrested in 1977 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He became a police informant which led to the break-up of The Council.
He wrote a book called Mr. Untouchable with Tom Folsom in 2007 and a documentary of his life of the same title was also released at the same time.
At the time of his death in 2012, Barnes is thought to be worth some $500,000.
18. Lee D’Avanzo
Lee D’Avanzo is a controversial figure in America, having been linked to the Colombo and Bonanno crime family. He is also husband to reality star Drita D’Alvanzo. The couple were first introduced in the reality television series “Mob Wives”.
On December 19, 2019, the couple were arrested at their home and was sentenced in August 2020 to 64 months in prison for firearms possession, among other charges.
As of 2020, D’Avanzo is thought to be worth about $500,000.
17. Michael Franzese
In 1986, Franzese was listed by Fortune Magazine as number 18 on the list of the 50 most wealthy and powerful mafia bosses.
Michael Franzese was a former New York mobster and was captain or caporegime of the Colombo crime family. He dropped out of med school to help his family with finances as his father had been sentenced to a 50-year prison for bank robbery in 1967.
Franzese was sentenced in 1986 to 10 years in prison and ultimately released in 1994 where he retired to California.
As of 2020, Michael Franzese is estimated to have a net worth of over $1 million.
16. Hector “Junior” Pagan
Linked to the Bonannos family with his marriage to Renee Graziano, Pagan began selling pot, loan sharking, and hosting illegal gambling.
He came into the mainstream limelight when Renee appeared in the reality TV show Mob Wives.
In 2014, Pagan admitted to the murder of Lucchese associate James Donovan, but agreed to cooperate against Gambino associate Luigi Grasso and Bonanno associate Richard Riccardi to lighten his own sentence. Pagan’s testimony against two of his mob associates put them away for 30-plus-year sentences in August 2014.
In September 25, 2014, Pagan was given a reduced sentence (due to his cooperation with the FBI) of 11 years in prison for the murder and robbery of Donovan in 2010. As of 2020, Pagan is thought to be worth some $1 million.
15. Sammy Gravano
Gravano was originally a mobster for the Colombo crime family but switched faction and joined the Gambino family. Gravano played a part in the murder of Gambino boss, Paul Castellano in 1985.
After Castellano’s death, Gravano was elevated to underboss. Gravano later became an informant for the police and became a US government witness.
As a result of his testimonies, Gotti and Frank Locascio were sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on June 23, 1992. On September 26, 1994, a federal judge sentenced Gravano to five years in prison. However, since Gravano had already served four years, the sentence amounted to less than one year. He was released early in 2017 and entered the U.S. federal Witness Protection Program in Arizona, but left the program in 1995.
Gravano was also known as Sammy the Bull or Jimmy Morgan. Gravano committed his first murder in 1970, that of Joseph Colucci, a fellow Spero associate.
As of 2020, Sammy Gravano was estimated to have a net worth of $2 million.
14. John Gotti Jr.
John Gotti Jr. became the boss of the Gambino crime family after its leader, Paul Castellano was murdered.
Gotti organized the murder of Castellano in December 1985 and took over the family shortly thereafter, leaving Gotti as the boss of what has been described as America’s most powerful crime syndicate, and one that made hundreds of millions of dollars a year from racketeering, hijacking, loan sharking, drug trafficking, bookmaking, prostitution, extortion, pornography, illegal gambling and other criminal activities.
During his time in power, Gotti was the most powerful and dangerous crime bosses in the US, and he was known for his flamboyant style and brash personality. He earned the moniker The Dapper Don for his expensive clothes and later The Teflon Don after he was acquitted three times after three high profile trials.
Gotti was done in by Gravano who wore a wiretap that implicated them both in several murders, leading to the conviction of Gotti in 1992. In prison, Gotti dies of throat cancer in 2002.
At the time of his death, he was thought to have a net worth of some $10 million.
13. Whitey Bulger
At one time in 1999, as the second most wanted man in the US after Osama Bin Laden, Whitey Bulger was the leader of the Winter Hill Gang in Massachusetts. He was involved in racketeering, money laundering, extortion, illegal possession of weapons, and complicity in 19 murders.
Bulger apparently provided information to the FBI about the Patriarca crime family to ensure that his outfit was left alone. In 1997, the media exposed criminal conduct by officials tied to Bulger and caused a lot of embarrassment up and down the various crime agencies in the US.
Bulger was apprehended in 2011 and was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus five years. He was by then 81 years old. In October 2018 Bulger was transferred to another facility in West Virginia, after several other transfers. Bulger was murdered by his inmates there at the West Virginia facility. He was incapacitated and was in a wheelchair at the time.
At the time of his arrest in 2011, he was estimated to have put away some $25 million, which is the equivalent of approximately $30 million today.
12. Rayful Edmond
Rayful Edmond III is an American former drug trafficker in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s. Edmond is widely believed to have introduced crack cocaine into the Washington, D.C. area during the crack epidemic, resulting in an escalating crime rate in the city which was then known as the “murder capital of the United States”. It was reported that there was a point in time when people were afraid to leave their homes or take public transportation.
In an indictment of two of Edmond’s associates, the charge sheets read that between 1,000 and 2,000 kilos of cocaine were brought into the US per week from the Trujillo-Blanco brothers, who were associated with the Medellin cartel. The drug deals Edmond made were estimated to be worth approximately $300 million annually.
Edmond was arrested on April 15, 1989. On September 17, 1990, the District Court passed sentences on Edmond: mandatory life without parole on count one, life without parole on counts two and five, 60 months on count eleven, and 48 months on counts fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and eighteen. Edmond’s sentences were to run concurrently. In 2019, he was returned to D.C. for hearings to determine if his life sentences should be commuted based on his assistance to the authorities regarding 20 homicides.
As of 2020, Edmond is estimated to have a personal fortune of some $50 million.
11. Big Meech
Demetrius “Big Meech” Flenory and Terry “Southwest T” Flenory were the founders of The Black Mafia Family. They operated mainly in Atlanta and Los Angeles.
By 2000 Big Meech and his brother had establishedcocainedistribution sales throughout the United States through theirdrug source in LA, and from direct links toMexicandrug cartels.
The Black Mafia Family under Big Meech entered the hip-hop music business with their establishment, BMF Entertainment, in the early 2000s, to front their money-laundering operations from cocaine sales and also in a bid to legitimize themselves. BMF Entertainment served as a promoter for several high-profile hip-hop artists including Fabolous and Young Jeezy, and as a record label for their sole artist Bleu DaVinci. Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family were known in hip-hop popular culture for their highly extravagant lifestyles.
In 2005, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicted members of the Black Mafia Family, ultimately securing convictions by targeting the Flenory brothers under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute and both were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
Terry Flenory was released to home confinement in May 2020 but Big Meech was denied a similar application as the presiding judge was of the view that Big Meech had not repented and had continued to promote himself as a drug kingpin while in jail.
As of 2020, Big Meech is thought to have accumulated some $100 million.
10. Al Capone
Also known as Scarface, Al Capone was as famous in real life as his movie character. One could say he captured the public’s imagination as the dapper crime boss, wearing custom suits and a fedora. Alphonse Gabriel Capone was an American gangster and businessman who was the boss of the Chicago Outfit. The Chicago Outfit is anItalian-Americanorganized crime syndicate based in Chicago, Illinois, which dates back to the 1910s. It is part of the largerItalian-American Mafiaand originated inSouth Side, Chicago.
Al Capone was quite the Robin Hood of his city as he did donate money to various charities and in a way helped the communities he lived with. However, after a particularly vicious murder known as the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which seven gang rivals were murdered, federal action was intensified to apprehend him.
He was indicted on 22 counts of tax evasion and was convicted on five of them. He appealed his sentence but during his appeal, he became sick from syphilis and died some eight years later while in incarceration of cardiac arrest in January of 1947.
Capone started with illegal breweries and had various businesses, some of them legitimate and some not, but mostly funded from proceeds of crime.
As at the time of his death, it’s been estimated that he was likely to have been worth some $100 million.
9. Bugsy Siegel
Benjamin Siegel, or Bugsy, as he was popularly known was thought to be a driving force in the development of the Las Vegas Strip. He was influential within the Jewish mob, but like Lansky, was linked to the Italian American Mafia.
Like other gangsters of his age and vintage, he has been immortalized by Hollywood films about his life or characters based on his life.
Siegel reportedly financed some of the original casinos in Las Vegas and was known to have taken over construction and management of the Flamingo Hotel, which closed shortly after it opened due to poor reception.
Siegel, like his cohorts of the time was known to have been involved in racketeering, gangsterism, and been involved in illegal gambling, and money laundering.
In 1947, he was shot dead at the home of his girlfriend. When he died, he was thought to have amassed a fortune that is the equivalent of $100 million today.
8. Meyer Lanksy
Known in the crime circle as the Mob’s Accountant, Meyer Lanksy was a major figure in organized crime, linked to the Italian American Mafia. Thought to be associated directly with the Jewish mob, Lanksy created a gambling empire that spanned the world, and he was believed to own interests or points in casinos from Las Vegas, Cuba, and The Bahamas to London.
Lanksy was never indicted for any offense other than illegal gambling in his 50 odd years in the scene. He had the reputation of being one of the most financially successful “gangsters” in American history. Lanksy died in 1983 having fled to Cuba, but before his flight to Cuba, he was estimated to have a personal net worth of some $20 million, which is approximately $200 million in 2020.
7. Carlo Gambino
Carlo Gambino was an Italian Americancrime bossof theGambino crime family. After theApalachin Meetingin 1957, and the imprisonment ofVito Genovesein 1959, Gambino took overthe Commissionof theAmerican Mafiauntil his death from a heart attack on October 15, 1976. During more than 50 years in organized crime, he served only 22 months in prison for a tax evasion charge in 1937. The Commission is the governing body of the American Mafia formed in 1931 by Charles “Lucky” Lucianofollowing theCastellammarese War which saw a savage fight for control between associates ofJoe “The Boss” Masseriaand those ofSalvatore Maranzano. The Commission replaced the title ofcapo di tutti capi(“boss of all bosses”), held bySalvatore Maranzanobefore his murder, with a ruling committee that consisted of the bosses of theFive Familiesof New York City, as well as the bosses of theChicago Outfitand theBuffalo crime family. The purpose of the Commission was to oversee all Mafia activities in the United States and serve to mediate conflicts between families.
Carlo Gambino only served 22 months in prison for tax evasion out of the more than 50 years in organized crime. One could say that while Gambino was boss in the 1930s through to the 1970s, that was the “golden age” of organized crime, where Mafia families of the US were almost an institution and the lives of these crime families were storied and some of them were “heroes” in the minds of the local communities they lived in.
At the time of Gambino’s death in 1976, he was thought to have accumulated a personal fortune of some $400 million.
6. Jho Low
Low’s crimes are as spectacular in their scale as his profligate spending. While Low has not yet been apprehended, the authorities of several countries have warrants out for his arrest. Jho Low was until recently regularly seen in the company of Hollywood’s A-lister stars and other celebrities in lavish parties where champagne was on tap and out-of-this-world gifts were made to impress and smoothen business transactions. Multi-million-dollar penthouses in New York were quickly bought up using offshore companies.
Low is famously linked to the financial scandal that is engulfing Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, IMDB – 1Malaysia Development Berhad. Low is thought to be the mastermind behind the re-directing of billions of dollars raised for 1MDB to his personal account and the accounts of his associates. Using the sovereign wealth fund as a front and raising money internationally through the issue of sovereign bonds and other securities, Low built up a structure of companies through which he is alleged to have used to structure numerous illegal transactions.
1MDB through these issues of bonds has reportedly accumulated some 42 billion worth of debt in Malaysian currency and has been unable to make payments due under the bonds issued.
Efforts are currently underway to recover assets of 1MDB, and so far some $320 million worth of assets have been recovered by seizure and sale of assets belonging to Low and his associates.
As of 2020, Low is thought to have at least $500 million in his control. He is still a fugitive from the law.
5. Joachim “El Chapo” Guzman Loera
Widely known as one of the most powerful drugs trafficker in the world, El Chapo came into wide media attention due to his highly publicized re-arrest by the Mexican authorities and extradition to the US where he is currently serving a life imprisonment sentence at ADX Florence, Colorado.
El Chapo exported more drugs into the US and Europe than any known drugs kingpin, using his specially devised distribution cells and long-range tunnels out of Mexico at the borders.
The power and wealth he once commanded is said to have matched that of Pablo Escobar. Born poor in Sinaloa to a farming family, ironically, it was his father who introduced him to cultivating marijuana to supply to local dealers. El Chapo then worked with several well known Mexican drugs traffickers like Hector Salazar and Miguel Gallardo before forming his own cartel in in 1988, called the Sinaloa cartel.
Guzman was known for his violent and serious approach to business, for if any drugs shipment was not on time, he would simply shoot the smuggler in the head.
As of 2020, Guzman is thought to have accumulated some $1 billion from his activities.
4. Frank Costello
Costello was another of the “old world” mafia bosses of the Italian- American crime families. He was the head of the Luciano crime family.
In 1931, after the Masseria and Maranzano murders, popularly known as the Castellammarese War, Luciano became the leader of the new Luciano crime family, with Genovese as underboss and Costello as consigliere. Costello quickly became one of the biggest earners for the Luciano family and began to make a name for himself in the underworld. He controlled the slot machine and bookmaking operations for the family with associate Philip “Dandy Phil” Kastel. Costello placed approximately 25,000 slot machines in bars, restaurants, cafes, drugstores, gas stations, and bus stops throughout New York. In 1934, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia confiscated thousands of Costello’s slot machines, loaded them on a barge, and dumped them into the river.
After this disaster, Costello accepted the then Louisiana governor’s, Huey Long, proposal to put slot machines throughout Louisiana for 10% of the take. From this operation, Costello brought in millions of dollars in profit from slot machines and bookmaking fir the Luciano family.
Costello was jailed and released a dozen times from 1952 to 1961. In 1952, the US government began proceedings to strip Costello of his US citizenship, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1961 but Costello was never deported from the US. He died in 1973 from a heart attack.
Like his cohorts of his time, Costello’s life as a crime boss has been featured in various movies. At the time of his death, Costello is thought to have set aside some $1 billion in personal wealth.
3. Griselda Blanco
Known as La Madrina or the Black Widow, Blanco was a major drug distributor from Colombia to Miami, New York, and California. In the mid-1970s, Blanco moved to New York and settled down in Queens. She and her then second husband established a large network of distribution for cocaine. In April 1975, Blanco was indicted on drugs conspiracy charges but she fled to Colombia before she could be arrested. In the late 1970s, Blanco returned to the US, settling in Miami. During her years in Miami, the gangs dealing drugs often engaged in very public and violet conflicts, with scores of murders and killings. This was the crime epidemic that swept Miami in the 1980s.
At the time, Blanco’s distribution brought in some $80 million a month in drug trades, and her violent style of doing business eventually resulted in her arrest in 1985 by the DEA. She was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, but while in prison, she continued with her drug trade through her son Michael Blanco. She was released from prison in 2004 and deported back to Medellin, Colombia. In 2012, she was shot dead by a motorcyclist who parked his motorbike outside the shop she was purchasing food and shot her twice, then calmly got back on his bike and rode off.
At the time of her death, Blanco was estimated to have put away some $2 billion in personal wealth.
2. Carlos Lehder
Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas is a German-Colombian former drug lord who was a co-founder of the Medellín Cartel. He was released from prison in the United States after 33 years in 2020. Lehder ran a cocaine transport empire on Norman’s Cay island, 210 miles (340 km) off the Florida coast in the central Bahamas.
Lehder was one of the most important MAS and Medellin Cartel operators, and is considered to be one of the most important Colombian drug kingpins to have been successfully prosecuted in the United States.
Additionally, Lehder founded “a neo-Nazi political party”, the National Latin Movement, whose main function, police said, appeared to be to force Colombia to abrogate its extradition treaty with the United States.
Lehder started out by supplying cocaine in the United States after he got out of prison for selling stolen cars and marijuana. He has experience in flying marijuana from Mexico to the US in a small aircraft and this method revolutionized the cocaine trade by the use of small aircrafts.
During his active years of operations from the Cay in the Caribbean, 300 kilograms of cocaine would arrive on the island daily and Lehder’s personal wealth exploded into the billions. Such was his wealth that on two occasions, he offered to pay off Colombian’s external debt in exchange for the ability to conduct his trade and also to prevent his extradition to the US. Lehder was at one time hired by Pablo Escobar as his bodyguard. Lehder had petitioned Escobar when the latter was a Representative in the Chambers of Representative to reject an extradition treaty with the US.
Lehder was arrested in Colombia and extradited to the US in 1987 where he was tried and sentenced to life without parole, and to an additional 135 years in prison. In June 2020, Lehder was released from prison and deported to Germany.
As of 2020, Lehder is reportedly worth a personal fortune of some $2.5 billion.
1. Pablo Escobar
The most celebrated and infamous of all criminals, Pablo Escobar has been a University student, a politician, a philanthropist, and a drug lord. He formed the Medellin cartel in 1976 which distributed cocaine and made the greatest inroad into the US, where at the height of his operations in the 1980s, up to 80 tons of cocaine was brought into the US monthly.
Rival cartels and factions soon made life difficult for Escobar and the rivalry led to massacres and murders of scores of people from police officers and judges to local communities and politicians. Colombia thus earned the unenviable title of the “Murder capital of the world” at the time.
Escobar was somewhat of a local hero as he oversaw community projects, like schools and houses, but the Colombian government was intent on jailing him. In 1991, Escobar surrendered to the authorities and began a five-year imprisonment term, but escaped in 1992, resulting in a nationwide manhunt. As a politician, one of his objectives was to campaign for a rejection of extradition to the US of Colombian criminals wanted by the DEA. In 1993, Escobar was killed in Medellin by the Colombian National Police.
His life continues to inspire films and documentaries. At the time of his death, he was estimated to have made a fortune of some $30 billion, which is approximately some $60 billion today.