5 Famous Drug Cartels in History and How They Set the Legal Tone for the Country

Posted on by New Mexico Criminal Law Offices

You have seen them on TV.

You might have read about them in a book.

Drug cartels are big business for Hollywood, but these institutions are by no means acts of fiction. Drug cartels are real, and some are still present in the United States today.

Over the span of a few decades, some drug cartels have made history with their long list of criminal acts, ability to elude law enforcement, and the amount of money they earned that contributed to an astounding net worth.

While you have dozens of cartels to choose from, five stand out in history. These five drug cartels not only made it into criminal history textbooks, but they also are the driving force behind some of the harshest drug policies in the country.

New Mexico Criminal Law Drug Cartel Infographic

A Look at the 5 Infamous Drug Cartels of All Time

A group of dealers is not a cartel. Instead, a cartel is a massive criminal organization that engages in drug trafficking to create a network of individuals in a commercial empire.

These groups take their criminal organizations not only across state lines, but are global enterprises worth billions.

1. The Medellin Cartel

You might not know of the Medellin Cartel, but you do know of their infamous leader: Pablo Escobar.

Originating from Medellin, Colombia, the Medellin Cartel was one of the most feared and highest netting drug cartels in Colombia’s history. The cartel operated from 1976 to 1993. And while they started in Columbia, their reach included Bolivia, Central America, Peru, the United States, Canada, and Europe. Their estimated net worth was $30 billion by 1990 – which equates to a $56 billion equivalent in 2017.

Escobar’s group supplied almost 96 percent of the cocaine in the US and held the global market for cocaine by 90 percent.

Escobar’s rise to leadership came after he murdered the original leader, Fabio Restrepo. Escobar was also the wealthiest criminal in history; thus his nickname: “The King of Cocaine.”

2. Juarez Cartel

The Juarez Cartel is the second most infamous drug cartel in history, operating the same years as the Medellin Cartel. They were worth an astounding $25 billion in US dollars.

Unlike Medellin, the Juarez Cartel started in Mexico and controlled a large percentage of cocaine passing between Mexico and the United States.

Their leader, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, was a drug lord who came into power after killing his boss, Rafael Aguilar Guajardo. He was known as the “Lord of the Skies” because he owned a massive fleet of jets he used to transport drugs to and from the United States. During a plastic surgery operation, Fuentes died. It was believed he planned to change his appearance so that he could lose trackers from federal agencies.

While their leader died, the Juarez Cartel (now operating under the New Juarez Cartel or “Nuevo Cartel de Juarez”) is believed to still work within 21 states in Mexico.

3. Beltran-Leyva Cartel

The Beltran-Leyva Cartel is one you might recognize, as they ran from 2008 to 2011. As another Mexican drug cartel, this group was founded by four Beltran Leyva brothers and was responsible for cocaine and marijuana production and wholesaling. This cartel is notorious for not only drug trafficking, but also for extortion, kidnapping, murder, and gun running.

The Cartel is part of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), which is a major crime syndicate operating out of Mexico.

The Cartel became famous when they broke ties with their organization, the Sinaloa Cartel, in 2008. This was because they believed their leader (El Chapo) betrayed them. The brothers then ordered that the son of El Chapo, a 22-year old, be murdered. He was killed in a shopping center parking lot by at least 15 men all armed with grenade launchers and assault rifles.

In 2011, the cartel came to an end when the Mexican authorities captured or killed three of the brothers. The fourth brother was arrested in 2014 while eating at a seafood restaurant.

4. The Cali Cartel

The Cali Cartel started in Southern Columbia in 1977 and remained active through 1998. The group was formed by a band of brothers, each with a unique skill set. One brother was the “legitimate” face of the criminal organization with ties to local officials. Another was the violent addition who was known as a deadly hitman. Another was in charge of the network’s US-based operations, while the fourth was the brains of the entire operation handling all of the business (including legitimate businesses).

5. Sinaloa Cartel

Last on the list is the Sinaloa Cartel, operating from 1988 until the present day. Run by the infamous, El Chapo, who has escaped Mexican prisons twice – one of those times through a mile-long tunnel – this cartel is one of the most active in the world, smuggling drugs into the US and trafficking them throughout the country.

Harsher Penalties Deter Drug Trafficking but Punish the Innocent

These drug cartels and the lesser known traffickers in the country have contributed to more stringent drug policies. While these policies are designed to protect the public from crime syndicates like the ones mentioned above, it also puts forth harsher than necessary punishments for first-time offenders and even those who have no intention to traffic.

If you have been arrested for drug trafficking, it is imperative you talk with an attorney. The team at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices knows how these harsh policies can impact the rest of your life, and we want to help. Schedule your consultation now at 505-375-4661 or connect with us online.