Recently here at TheRichest, we published an article about 15 of the richest men to ever be convicted of a crime. But why let men have all the fun? It’s 2017, so how about some gender equality, am I right? If anything a man can do, a woman can do better, then those billionaire bad boys best look out, because these women are playing for keeps. We have your standard white collar criminals: multimillionaires (at least) who tried to scrape together just a few more dollars by way of embezzlement, tax evasion, or bribery, etc. And we also have ruthless criminals; drug queenpins and maffiosas who ran lucrative, and often brutal, criminal enterprises. And we also have a few uber rich women who landed themselves in legal troubles in slightly less expected ways.
Some of the names on this list will be familiar to most readers. Many, however, may be completely new to you. Why is that? Inherent gender bias in which criminals get the most coverage? Perhaps it’s likelier that there is a gender bias in the world of crime itself. Whatever the reason, these wealthy female scofflaws deserve to be famous –or rather, infamous– for their actions. Whether they were bribing government officials, peddling massive quantities of drugs, or perpetrating even more nefarious acts, these women knew how to get ahead in their worlds and make obscene fortunes, even if (especially if) it meant they had to break the rules to do so. So read on and learn about 15 of the richest women to have ever been arrested.
Note: all figures are listed in U.S. dollars unless otherwise noted.
15. Alice Walton
As one of the surviving heirs to the Walmart fortune, Alice Walton’s net worth is estimated to be somewhere in the area of $33.2 billion. Indeed, she has been proclaimed by Business Insider as the wealthiest woman in the world. Whatever your opinion of Walmart and their business practices is, Ms. Walton has genuinely tried to do at least a few good deeds with her vast fortune. She has been an avid patron of the arts, including sponsoring the creation of the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. That notwithstanding, like many billionaires, her rap sheet is not entirely clean. However, Walton has never been nabbed for insider trading or bribery or any white collar crimes of that sort, but rather drunk driving. Walton has been arrested for ‘Driving Under the Influence’ no fewer than three times. She even once paid a $925 ticket to avoid jail time. Most disturbingly, in 1989, Walton struck and killed 50-year old Oleta Hardin, however, no charges were ever filed for that particular incident.
14. Rosetta Cutolo
Rosetta Cutolo is the older sister of Raffaele Cutolo, the ostensible boss of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata (NCO), a modern incarnation of the centuries old Camorra, an Italian mafia syndicate from Naples. But Raffaele has spent much of his life behind bars, so Rosetta took to operating the NCO. Whether she was just carrying out her brother’s orders or running things on her own isn’t clear. What is clear is that by working with South American cocaine cartels, Cutolo presided over a criminal organization worth billions of dollars. She lived in a 16th century palace replete with 365 rooms. But other than this, she tried to keep a low profile. Oh, except for that time she tried to blow up a police headquarters. She barely escaped her palace by hiding in a rug during a raid in 1981 and lived over a decade as a fugitive before she was finally caught in 1993 and sent to prison.
13. Nina Wang
Nina Wang was worth billions, an estimated $4.2 at the time of her death. She was Hong Kong’s richest woman. Much of that money came from her husband, who was declared dead in 1999…nine years after he disappeared. Teddy Wang was actually kidnapped once before, in 1983, and he was chained to a bed for eight days before Nina paid the $33 million ransom. When he was kidnapped a second time in 1990, he was even less lucky, never being found again. Nina took over his chemical company, Chinachem, and turned it into a successful property developer. The trouble is, after her husband’s declared death in 1999, there were three different wills in circulation. A long legal battle ensued and a judge eventually ruled in 2002 that Teddy’s father, Wang Din-shin (who had accused Nina of adultery) was the rightful heir and that Nina must hand over the entire fortune. In 2005, Nina was charged with forging her husband’s will. But later that year, a High Court overturned the original ruling and handed Chinachem back to Nina. She died in 2007 of ovarian cancer.
12. Gertrude Lythgoe
The 1920’s weren’t just a time for men like Al Capone and Nucky Thompson to get rich in the bootlegging game. Gertrude Lythgoe proved that women could be just as good at profiting off of America’s flawed prohibition laws. Liquor didn’t just flow from up north in Canada, however. Lythgoe’s route was from Nassau in the Bahamas to the US. Over 250,000 gallons of liquor was shipped from the Bahamas to the US in 1923 alone, earning Lythgoe a fortune and the nickname, “The Bahama Queen”. When a rival began insulting the quality of her product, Lythgoe abducted him from a barbershop and pulled a gun on him; he kept his mouth shut henceforth. The good times ended for Lythgoe when she was caught shipping 1,000 cases of liquor into New Orleans. The charges were ultimately dropped, possibly with the tacit agreement that Lythgoe get out of the bootlegging game, which she promptly did. She relocated to Los Angeles and lived a quiet life right up until the ripe old age of 86.
11. Thelma Wright
Nicknamed “the Boss Lady” and “Queen Pen”, very little in Thelma Wright’s life before 1982 suggested she would end up in the drug dealing industry, let alone running it in Philadelphia. It was in 1982 that she married Jackie Wright, a heroin supplier. Jackie had ties to the powerful Black Mafia gang, who rose to notoriety for murdering Philly police. Jackie himself was murdered in 1986, leaving Thelma having to support herself and her four-year old son. Thelma threw herself into drug dealing and had an uncanny knack for it. She became the primary source for both heroin and cocaine in Philly’s drug-filled 1980’s, and even began expanding routes to Los Angeles. It is estimated that at her peak, she raked in over $400,000 a month! Things began to unravel in 1991 when Wright, heretofore somehow having avoided a lot of violence, was caught up in a nightclub shooting. Shortly thereafter, an underling got caught trying to mail cocaine (doesn’t seem a wise move) and Wright decided to turn herself in while she still had leverage. After keeping a low profile for decades, she’s now an author and motivational speaker.
10. Marllory Dadiana Chacon Rossell
US authorities once identified Marllory Dadiana Chacón Rossell as “one of the most prolific narcotics traffickers in Central America.” She was suspected of sending thousands of kilograms of cocaine through Guatemala to the US and laundering tens of millions of dollars each month. She and her family lived lavishly in Guatemala City, cavorting with politicians and businessmen. By her late 30s, she was the mother of five and the ruler of a business empire that included hotels, a national lottery, a construction firm, and a high-end clothing store. She really knew how to “lean in”. Her exploits earned her the nickname, “Queen of the South”. While cocaine earned her a fortune, she seems to have made even more through laundering and even appeared in the Panama Papers last year. But it was still all untenable and in 2015, Chacón Rossell cut a deal with the US justice department. She was given a reduced sentence in exchange for her co-operation with authorities. Tantalizingly, her actual punishment has been kept secret and a judge ordered the case sealed for five years.
9. Ding Yuxin
Ding Yuxin was the chairwoman of Boyou Investment Management Corp, a massive Chinese financial company. That was until 2013, when she was found guilty of offering a bribe of 40 million yuan to a former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, in exchange for connections and lucrative contracts. Ding eventually admitted to making about 2 billion yuan worth of profits between 2004 to 2011. She was given a massive fine of 2.5 billion yuan, stripped of 20.2 million yuan of personal property, and also sentenced to 20 years in prison! Given some of the deals some of the drug lords and crime bosses on this list managed to strike, Ding’s punishment seems bizarrely harsh. But keep in mind that in the undemocratic (and supposedly communist) People’s Republic of China, bribery is a huge problem and the government felt it was necessary to make an example out of a few naughty billionaires, and Ding was one of them.
8. Charmaine Roman
Charmaine Roman is unusual in a number of ways beyond simply being a woman in a male dominated field (drug lords). First, she and her outfit specialized in marijuana, which is not always as profitable as cocaine or heroin. Second, she made the rather novel choice to launder her money in a casino (one she didn’t even own). And third, apart from being a successful gambler, Roman won over $187,000 from the Florida state lottery from 44 winning tickets, mostly scratch tickets. But Roman’s real profit came from smuggling marijuana from Jamaica into Florida. She was an excellent bookkeeper for a successful Jamaican cartel, and she liked to live lavishly, with a mansion and several expensive cars. But the luck finally ran out for the grandmother in 2013 when she was arrested along with 50 other gang members in a raid in which authorities seized 3,200 pounds of marijuana, $200,000 in cash, guns, and cars.
7. Stephanie St. Clair
If you believe everything you read about Stephanie St.Clair, she lived a fascinating and depressing life. Born in Martinique to a single mother, St. Clair moved to France in 1912 after her mother died and she was r*ped by the son of her employer. France wasn’t much better, so she moved to New York, where she fell in love with a petty crook named Duke who promptly tried to prostitute her. St. Clair responded by jamming a fork in his eye and leaving New York on a bus. The bus was stopped by the KKK who murdered several black passengers and r*ped her. At this point, can you really blame her for starting to sell drugs? She did so with her new boyfriend Ed, but she wanted to branch out on her own and start a numbers racket. Ed was hurt by this and tried to strangle her, only for St. Clair to kill him in fighting back (perhaps accidentally). St. Clair became the most successful mobster in Harlem, earning her the sobriquet “Queenie”. St. Clair developed a personal enmity with Jewish mobster Dutch Schultz, and actually helped police arrest him, which put the heat on her so she had to leave the business. In all her time as a mobster, she only spent a few months in prison on a trumped up charge. It was her shooting of her second husband, Sufi Abdul Hamid, a black activist, anti-Semite, and possible cult leader, that landed her a decade long prison sentence.
6. Raffaella D’Alterio
Raffaella D’Alterio was, like Rosetta Cutolo, another Camorra clan leader. The Camorra are the Neapolitan mafia and actually run a larger crime operation than their Sicilian cousins, raking in more than £130 billion a year, according to The Daily Mail. D’Alterio ran the D’Altorio syndicate during a time of heavy infighting between various Camorra syndicates in the wake of the imprisonment of a woman we’ll see later on this list. Raffaella took over the helm in 2006 after her husband, Nicolo Pianese was murdered. Rafaella herself was once shot, but survived and rose to become the top boss of this wealthy operation. Her specialty was counterfeit money production which made her incredibly wealthy and earned her the nickname, “Miconia” (Big Female Kitten). It all went sour for her, though, in 2012 when she was arrested and had £10 million worth of cars and properties seized.
5. Jacqueline Badger Mars
Jacqueline Badger Mars is the co-owner of the Mars Inc. candy company and her estimated worth is an eye watering $24 billion. Unlike many billionaires, Mars does not like to schmooze too much with high society types and she and her family like to keep things private. However, like at least one other billionaire (Alice Walton), Jacqueline Mars is not the best driver in the world. In 2013, she pleaded guilty to reckless driving causing a fatality. Mars was given a six-month suspension and fined $2,500. Perhaps her sentence was somewhat lenient because the woman who died, Mars’ passenger, 86-year old Irene C. Ellisor, was not wearing a seat-belt and also because Mars was not found to be intoxicated. Apparently, she just fell asleep. Tragically, the minivan she hit with her Porsche was driven by an eight-month pregnant woman Ashley Blakeslee, who survived, but her unborn son did not.
4. Griselda Blanco
Anybody who watched the Netflix series Narcos, or is otherwise familiar with Pablo Escobar, will have heard of the Medellín cartel. The Colombian outfit was once the most profitable criminal organization in the world and for a time in the 1980’s, Griselda Blanco was a key component of it. Blanco, a petty thief in Medellín in the 1970’s, immigrated to the US, where she became a key woman on the inside for the cartel. She specialized in facilitating the movement of massive amounts of cocaine to Miami. In addition to becoming incredibly rich, she also amassed a glut of nicknames, including: La Madrina, the Black Widow, the Cocaine Godmother, and the Queen of Narco-Trafficking. Her being a woman did not stop Blanco from getting her hands dirty, and she may be responsible for as many as 200 murders. She was eventually arrested in Florida in 1985 and sentenced to a decade in prison, from where she continued to run her operation with varying success. After her sentence, she was deported to Colombia. She was murdered in 2012, which is actually a bit odd given that years of hard living and drug abuse had caught up to the by-then frail and possibly senile 69-year old.
3. Maria Licciardi
Maria Licciardi was inspired by Rosetta Cutolo to get involved in the Camorra. Licciardi ran the Licciardi Clan out of a Neapolitan suburb and eventually grew in power until she was calling the shots for the entire Camorra, an alliance of different mob clans. Like Cutolo, Licciardi was much quieter and kept a lower profile than her male counterparts, which allowed her to operate in the shadows while many of the Licciardi men were in and out of prison. Unlike Cutolo, and many other mafiosos, though, Licciardi was particularly monstrous. This is evident in her running a prostitution ring, an industry the Camorra historically thought was too immoral. And this wasn’t just prostitution; this was slavery. Most of Licciardi’s prostitutes were young women (often underage girls) tricked into coming to Italy from places like Albania, purchased, heavily drugged, and forced into s*x work. And to top off the savage psychopathy, Licciardi routinely had her prostitutes murdered when they became too old. Fortunately, Licciardi was finally arrested in 2001 on a plethora of charges and is now prison. Unfortunately, Licciardi is still able to influence her clan from behind bars.
2. Martha Stewart
And then there’s Martha Stewart. Whatever your opinion of Stewart’s crime and her subsequent sentence, I think we can all agree she doesn’t really deserve to be lumped in with this lot. I mean, some of these women are murderous drug lords and then there’s Martha Stewart who’s telling you the best ingredients for mango-lime salsa or how to make a lovely floral arrangement. Nevertheless, insider trading is a crime, and that’s for what Stewart was collared in 2004. In 2001, Stewart sold $45,673 worth of shares (3,928 total) of ImClone Systems a day before the share price plunged 16%. Her trial was perhaps the most highly publicized white collar crime trial ever (rivaled only by Bernie Madoff’s). Stewart was eventually found guilty on felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators. She was sentenced to five-months in prison and to a two-year period of supervised release (including five months of electronic monitoring).
1. Sandra Ávila Beltrán
“The Queen of the Pacific”, Sandra Ávila Beltrán, was born into the cartel life, her father being a close associate of the founder of the Guadalajara cartel. She experienced the highs of an opulent lifestyle, and the lows of witnessing shootouts at as young an age as 13. As a woman, she was careful of her image and never did cocaine herself, so as to be more respected by her male counterparts. And it didn’t hurt that she was beautiful. But more impressive than her looks was her criminal business acumen. She routinely handed out million dollar, and even tens of millions of dollars, bribes to politicians to clear the way. She became the key link between various Colombian and the Sinaloa cartels. But her wealth came at a price. Both of her first two husbands and her brother were murdered and her son was once kidnapped. She was eventually arrested in 2007 for laundering billions (with a ‘b’) of dollars worth of drug money. And that’s just the money they could prove she laundered. She was then extradited to the US in 2012, deported back to Mexico in 2013, and eventually released in 2015. She spent seven years in prison including two in solitary confinement.