Not too long ago we learned about Tirso Martinez Sanchez, the Mexican drug lord apprehended by local authorities for smuggling cocaine and other illicit narcotics into the United States. Apart from living a lifestyle so extravagant it would fit right in with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City playthrough, Martinez Sanchez was the head of his own organization, the aptly-named Martinez Sanchez Organization (MSO) and reportedly shipped 76 tonnes of cocaine to the States from 2000 to 2003, according to Reuters. Prior to the drug lord’s arrest, the U.S. State Department’s Narcotics Rewards Program offered up to $5 million for Martinez Sanchez’s capture.
But how does a figure like Tirso Martinez Sanchez compare to other major league players in the cocaine industry? We’ve seen his gilded guns and his collection of wildcats, sure, but compared to some other drug lords Martinez Sanchez’s wealth might seem quaint.
The man responsible for 25% of illegal drugs that entered the U.S. via Mexico
The Guanajuatense smuggler isn’t the only major Mexican drug baron to be in the news lately. Last weekend, Joaquin “El Chapo”—or “Shorty”—Guzmán was apprehended by Mexican marines in his own Condo in Mazatlan, CNN said Monday. Prior to his capture, Guzmán was the most wanted man in Mexico as well as one of the most slippery. Though arrested on homicide and drug charges in 1993, according to his profile in Forbes, the drug lord escaped from prison in 2001, supposedly smuggled out with the laundry—fitting for a money launderer like Guzmán, though actual eyewitnesses and investigators reported that he simply walked out the institution’s front doors, according to La Huella Digital. CEO of the Sinaloa Cartel—deemed the most powerful in the world by an unnamed U.S. law enforcement official in an Associated Press article—Guzmán was effectively responsible for 25% of illegal drugs crossing the Mexican border into the United States, Forbes estimates.
As with Martinez Sanchez, Guzmán was wanted by the U.S. State Department and had a $5 million bounty on his head. Forbes also says that at his height, the La Tuna-born drug lord had a net worth of $1 billion and was the 10th richest person in Mexico. His 2001 prison escape reportedly cost $2.5 million in bribes and other expenditures according to The Last Narco, a book about Guzmán by former Newsweek journalist Malcolm Beith. To give you a more detailed example of “El Chapo’s” wealth and power, a 2007 article in Border Reporter said that in November of that year, the drug lord effectively commandeered a restaurant in Colonia Las Quintas with the help of his enforcers, barring anyone from leaving or using their cell phones, dining in the private salon and paying for every patron’s meal before he left.
Not even Guzmán’s stay in prison from 1993 to 2001 could put a damper on his expensive lifestyle. An expose in La Huella Digital reports that Guzmán had himself transferred to a more lenient prison in Puente Grande, where through “bribes and intimidation” he had access to prostitutes, Viagra and cocaine—all of which would have made his 20 year sentence much more bearable had he decided to stay.
“Boston” George Jung
But Tirso Martinez Sanchez and “El Chapo” Guzmán are fairly recent history. After all, cocaine has been popular since the 1970s, and one of the most famous figures from that era was “Boston” George Jung, who might be familiar to anyone who saw Johnny Depp portray him in the 2001 biopic Blow.
The German- and Irish-American Jung got his start in the drug trade as early as 1967 when, according to The Boston Globe, he began smuggling marijuana from California to New England. By 1974, Jung and associates had moved from having flight attendants bring the drugs along in their luggage to stealing private planes and flying the marijuana in from Mexico, a piece in The Globe and Mail says. Renee Graham of The Boston Globe said that Jung’s operation was making $250,000 per month (adjusted for inflation $1.6 million) before Jung was arrested for drug smuggling in Chicago. In prison, Jung met Carlos Lehder, a member of the Medellín Cartel, and upon their release the two arranged to fly in cocaine from Colombia to the U.S. for cartel head Pablo Escobar.
At the height of his smuggling empire, Jung had a net worth of approximately $100 million, according to the site Celebrity Net Worth, so much money that he had to “buy houses just to store it,” he said in an interview with GorillaConvict.com. However, a combination of betrayal and ambition eventually brought him down. Jung is currently incarcerated in New Jersey, according to the Department of Corrections, and is set to be released later this November. His current net worth? Approximately $10,000.
The figurehead of the cocaine industry
And so we get to the man who was very much the figurehead of the cocaine industry: Pablo Emilio Escobar Gavíria, or simply Pablo Escobar. Alternately known as “El Doctor,” “Don Pablo” and “The Czar of Drugs,” Escobar aimed to be a millionaire by the time he was 22, according to the drug lord’s brother Roberto Escobar in his book The Accountant’s Story. His cocaine operation took off in the mid-‘70s—literally, as Escobar would even fly some of his smuggling planes himself. His Medellín Cartel would eventually control over 80% of the world’s cocaine market by 1986, The Chicago Tribune said. In his prime, he had a net worth of $3 billion, according to Forbes, and resided in Hacienda Nápoles, or “Naples Estate,” his mansion near Bogotá, which featured a full-fledged zoo and even a small car racing track.
Giving back to the poor
Unlike many of the figures named here, Escobar developed a reputation as the “Robin Hood” of the drug trade, supposedly giving back to the poor of Medellín through civic projects and donations. In fact, one of several categories Escobar is listed under on Wikipedia is “Folk Saints,” by implications putting him on a similar pedestal as Pancho Villa and Eva “Evita” Perón. Nevertheless, where Escobar had power, violence ensued. A report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said that Colombia became the murder capital of the world in the early 1990s, peaking at 27,100 violent deaths in 1992. According to The Boston Globe, the spike could be attributed to the deaths of more than 600 police officers killed by hitmen on Escobar’s payroll.
Of the four men listed here, only Escobar is among the dead. On December 2nd, 1993, Pablo Escobar was pursued and shot dead by officers of the Colombian National Police who had been cooperating with the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and even a group of local vigilantes known as Los Pepes. His death led to the splintering of the Medellín Cartel and the brief rise of the Cali Cartel in its place.
All of this goes to show that the cocaine industry can certainly reap some of the biggest rewards, but it quite clearly can’t be understated how extreme the risks involved are.