The sale of illegal drugs is wildly lucrative, which is what makes it so attractive for criminals. Drug kingpins run vast drug empires that see millions if not billions of dollars in sales every year. Many of these kingpins act both inside and outside the United States, obtaining illegal substances from places like Myanmar and Columbia, processing those substances, and selling the finished product within the United States. For this reason, the drug enforcement agency, or DEA, is active all over the world. In many cases, drug kingpins arrested outside the United States can be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial. Here are some of the most infamous drug distributors whose reigns came to an end thanks to United States law enforcement:
Gangster Al Capone rose to infamy during the prohibition when his crime family sold vast amounts of bootleg liquor, then classified under prohibition laws as an illegal substance. Capone was notoriously difficult to convict, using an odd combination of charm, intimidation, bribery and occasionally murder to keep himself out of jail. Capone also made numerous charitable contributions using the ill-gotten profits of his bootlegging business, making him a controversial and thoroughly enigmatic public figure. Eventually he was convicted of tax evasion, and he did eight years in Alcatraz.
Frank Lucas rose to prominence in the 60s and 70s. He lives in Harlem and primarily traded in heroin. Lucas ordered his drugs directly from the countries in Southeast Asia that produced them, saving money and making him unique among American drug dealers. Lucas went to jail twice for drug trafficking. The first time was in the 70s, when he was sentenced to 70 years behind bars but released after only five. He was convicted again in 1984 and served 7 years. His life story was (heavily) dramatized in the film American Gangster, with Denzel Washington playing Lucas’ role.
Felix Mitchell was a drug kingpin who sold heroin throughout the western United States, estimated to have brought in some $800,000 a week. He was often called Felix the Cat after the popular cartoon character. In 1986, he was stabbed to death in jail, where he was serving a life sentence he began only a year earlier. His funeral in Oakland, California, was a spectacle that attracted thousands and was broadcast worldwide.
The Orejuela Brothers
The Orejuela Brothers primarily trafficked in cocaine and ran the Cali cartel. Originally, their activities were of little interest to the DEA, because cocaine was not viewed as an addictive substance. This cartel also took it upon themselves to cleanse their region of those who they considered undesirable. They murdered homeless people, prostitutes, and homosexuals and left their bodies with signs saying “clean Cali, beautiful Cali.”
The Orejuela brothers primarily operated in Columbia, but their crimes in the United States led to eventual extradition. In 2006, they forfeited $2.1 billion in assets to the U.S. government as part of a guilty plea to charges of conspiracy to import cocaine.
Rick Ross, nicknamed Freeway because of his ownership of properties along Los Angeles’ Harbor Freeway during the 1980s, was a major dealer of cocaine throughout the United States. Thousands of dealers throughout the U.S. worked for Ross, and he claims in his heyday to have sold as much as $2 million in drugs in a single day. Ross was arrested in 1996, when a friend set him up to sell a large amount of cocaine to an undercover agent for the drug enforcement agency. He was sentenced to life in prison, but released in 2009 for good behavior.
William Leonard Pickard
William Leonard Pickard manufactured and sold LSD and was responsible for so much of the product that after his arrest, 90 percent of the world’s LSD supply dried up. He was first arrested in 1988, when a neighbor reported a strange smell coming from his workshop. Federal agents raided the shop and found LSD, and Pickard was sentenced to five years in jail. Oddly, Pickard did not fit the typical profile for a drug kingpin. He came from a wealthy family and attended Princeton and Harvard universities. He even served as the deputy director of the Drug Policy Research Program at the University of California, Los Angeles, before he was caught manufacturing LSD. While Pickard frequently moved his laboratory to avoid detection, he was caught and arrested in Wamego, Kansas in 2000. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, and he is currently serving that sentence in Tucson, Arizona.