Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Modern Criminals Who’ve Made a Killing

According to Gordon Gekko, a fictional criminal who made a killing, greed has "marked the upward surge of mankind." While in many instances that may be true, it has also produced some of the world’s slimiest creatures. The illegal activities of the following men (and woman) have had immense ramifications on the people surrounding them, producing fallout ranging from abrupt job loss to death. Each made a ton of money, but at high costs.

  1. Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, Mexican drug lord

    Ranked as one of the 60 most powerful people in the world according to Forbes Magazine, Guzman has accumulated a net worth of more than $1 billion through his control of large-scale cocaine shipments from Columbia to the US. During his younger years, he served as an apprentice to Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the currently incarcerated former Mexican cartel leader who demonstrated similar ruthlessness. The ascension of his career has coincided with his ascension to the top of the FBI’s and Interpol’s most wanted list.

  2. Carlos Lehder, Colombian drug lord

    Cocaine became en vogue in the ’80s in part because of the work of Lehder, who organized its transport from Columbia to Florida using Norman’s Cay, a Bahamian Island that served as the empire’s headquarters. His plan to efficiently use small aircraft to smuggle larger quantities into the US expanded his wealth and the overall power of the cartel. He was eventually caught and extradited to the US in 1987, where he was sentenced to life without parole, later reduced to 55 years in exchange for his agreement to testify against former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.

  3. Griselda Blanco, Colombian drug lord

    Intimidating violence enabled Blanco to succeed at a man’s game, but it also led to her demise. During the mid-’70s, after immigrating to the US from Columbia with her husband Alberto Bravo, she quickly established a lucrative cocaine business in Queens. Once she was indicted, she returned to Columbia until the late ’70s, at which point she moved to Miami to take advantage of the area’s emerging affinity for cocaine. The ensuing violence during the Cocaine Cowboy Wars resulted in her fleeing to California to escape assassination attempts. There, she was arrested and imprisoned for a decade before being released and deported to Columbia.

  4. Dawood Ibrahim, Indian organized crime leader

    For almost 20 years, Ibrahim has been closely monitored by the US because of his role in the 1993 Bombay bombings and relationship with the late Osama bin Laden. His control of a complex value transferring system and involvement in narcotics trafficking has enabled him to contribute large sums of money to terrorist organizations. As with many wealthy organized crime leaders, Ibrahim has lived a lavish lifestyle in which, notably, he’s been personally entertained by famous Bollywood actors and singers.

  5. Semion Mogilevich, Russian organized crime leader

    The Russian Mafia is far-reaching and incredibly powerful, more so than any other crime organization in the world. Mogilevich, the 5’6, 290-pound head of the network, is more intelligent than your average crook, boasting a degree in economics. During the mid-’90s, he defrauded investors in YBM Magnex International, Inc, a Pennsylvania-based public company, resulting in a gain of $150 million for his organization. In 2008, he was arrested in Russia for tax evasion, but was released the next year.

  6. Brian Wright, Irish drug trafficker

    Britain’s wealthiest criminal, known as "The Milkman" because he always delivered, earned a fortune during the ’90s when he efficiently smuggled cocaine across the country, including three tons over the course of just two years. Wright was also involved in horse race fixing, bribing jockeys and doping race horses. His status and engaging personality enabled him to befriend celebrities while frequenting some of Britain’s best-known hot spots. In 2007, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for running his illegal empire.

  7. John Palmer, British timeshare swindler

    At his peak during the ’90s, Palmer amassed a fortune equivalent to just fewer than $500 million. Much of it came from timeshare developments in which he used high pressure tactics to convince timeshare owners to purchase second timeshares with the promise that Palmer and company would sale the first one at attractive rates. Of course, that never happened, and numerous customers, most of whom weren’t rich, lost lots of money in the process. In 2001, he went to prison for his misdeeds, serving half of an eight-year prison term. He returned to prison for fraud in 2007 and served an additional two years.

  8. Bernie Madoff, Ponzi scheme operator

    White collar criminals such as Madoff don’t use violence to gain power, but they certainly lie, cheat and steal. The stock broker and investment advisor introduced the term "Ponzi scheme" to the American public, as he defrauded billions of dollars from thousands of investors over the course of a few decades. The former NASDAQ chairman’s demise was initiated by own sons, who reported his activities to authorities immediately after he first revealed the secret to them — his son Mark later committed suicide in 2010. Bernie is currently serving a 150-year prison term.

  9. Dennis Kozlowski, CEO of Tyco International

    With spending habits resembling an organized crime leader, Kozlowski did little to hide the $81 million in unauthorized bonuses he received from his company. His extravagances included a $2 million birthday party thrown for his wife in Sardinia disguised as a shareholder meeting, and a $30 million New York City apartment with, among other astoundingly pricey items, a $6,000 shower curtain. In 2005, he was found guilty of 22 of 23 counts of grand larceny and conspiracy, violating business law and falsifying business records, which garnered him a prison sentence of up to 25 years.

  10. Robert Allen Stanford, CEO of Stanford Financial Group

    Stanford Financial Group, run by Robert Allen Stanford, became yet another financial services casualty in 2009 when it was revealed that the company partook in an $8 billion savings fraud. The chairman lied about CD return rates and investments, documenting hypothetical investment results as historical data in what turned out to be another enormous Ponzi scheme. Currently awaiting trial, Stanford has transitioned from the friendly confines of his home in Antigua to the unfriendly confines of a prison in Houston.