El Chapo’s net worth isn’t something that’s necessarily available since he’s the head of the world’s most notorious drug cartel, but experts say that the leader of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel is worth around $1 billion. Even during his prison stays, Joaquin Guzmán’s wealth increases because of his ability to run the Sinaloa cartel from jail.
And then of course, there’s his ability to escape from prison…
El Chapo’s Net Worth As of 2019: $1.4 Billion
So how did “El Chapo,” (Spanish for “Shorty”) a 5’6″ man born in a poor area of Mexico grow to become a billionaire? Lets find out:
El Chapo’s exact age is still unknown, but we do know that he grew up in a poor rural area of Mexico: La Tuna, Badiraguato, Sinaloa (red area shown above). It was there that Chapo began to learn the business of drugs. At first, he helped his father cultivate opium crops and package them into bundles the size of kilos. He also helped his abusive, alcoholic father peddle marijuana in the city center.
As time passed and Chapo turned 15, he became angry that his father wasted all their money on booze and women, so El Chapo started a separate marijuana business with four other distant cousins who lived nearby. This money allowed him to support his family. It wasn’t a lot, but it was the start of the most notorious drug smuggler in world history.
But El Chapo’s father became irate with his decision and kicked him out the house.
El Chapo was one of the few people to leave his hometown in search of bigger opportunities. Luckily for him, his uncle Pedro Avilés Pérez was one of the pioneers of the Mexican drug smuggling game. Pedro hooked his nephew up with the Guadalajara Cartel who were the dominant Mexican drug cartel at the time. Because of Mexico’s immediate vicinity to the United States, often times Mexican cartels were the ones tasked with bringing drugs through the border for Columbia.
El Chapo’s first big job involved reporting to Héctor “El Güero” Palma, a drug lord under the umbrella of the the Guadelajara Cartel. For the Guadelajara Cartel, Chapo would coordinate smugglers and their deliveries from the Sierra Madre mountains (still the biggest hotbed of Mexican narco activity) to urban areas near the US-Mexico border. The abundance of cheap planes and mountains made trips like this extremely easy.
It was similarly easy to wind up on El Chapo’s bad side, which meant that he would personally kill you with a bullet to the head. Joaquin made it known from the very beginning that delivering products late, missing, or tampered with in any way would be an immediate death sentence. This gave him a lot of respect among his superiors, who then found it harder to deny El Chapo’s request to deliver more and more drugs.
As time passed and El Chapo gained more and more trust, he became the chauffeur for one of the Guadelajara Cartel’s leader: Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo. From there, he rose to the ranks of “head of logistics.” Now instead of transporting the drugs across the border with Palma (his previous superior), El Chapo was responsible for bringing the drugs from Colombia all the way to the Mexican border towns. El Chapo was working directly under Gallardo.
Coincidentally, the Colombian Cartels were having a much tougher time transporting their own drugs and it became less of a hassel to pay the Mexicans to do it exclusively. This effectively tipped the power into the Mexicans’ hands, ending the Colombian dominance. It was around this time probably that El Chapo started having more money than he knew what to do with it. Believe it or not, that dilemma wouldn’t last for too long.
El Chapo’s boss Felix Gallardo was arrested in November 1984 and called for a summit of Guadelajara drug barons to discuss the future of their business. El Chapo had earned a seat at the table. It was decided at this summit that the Guadelajara Cartel would be split into three territories and that El Chapo, Palma, and their associate Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada would run the territories along the Pacific Coast of Mexico in an area known as Sinaloa. Thus was born the Sinaloa Cartel.
Guzmán was specifically in charge of the drug corridors of Tecate, Baja California, and Mexicali and San Luis Río Colorado, two border crossings that connect the states of Sonora and Baja California with the U.S. states of Arizona and California.
Gallardo’s arrest sent Guzmán into hiding in Guadelajara. Needing a new base of operations for the Sinaloa Cartel, El Chapo had friends and associates purchase land and property under fake names with his money. He soon owned dozens of properties around the area: neighborhood apartments, mansions, and multiple ranches where his drugs were grown and packaged.
It was also during this time thatGuzmán was first acknowledged in organized crime. It was alleged that he had organized the shipment of 1,600 pounds of marijuan and 10,504 pounds of cocaine in the years of 1987 to 1990. In return, he made $1.5 million for that one route. Another route earned him $100K for 35 tons of drugs over three years. And those are just the shipments that were made known to the police.
It is now also known that Guzmán came up with the idea of shipping massive amounts of cocaine in chili pepper cans, which would then be shipped the USA via train (allowing for larger quantities). In return for these chili pepper cans, he would receive multiple briefcases stuffed with millions of dollars. These cases would be used sometimes to bribe officials.
Things started getting increasingly expensive for Guzmán and the rest of the Sinaloa Cartel once they started a war with the Tijuana Cartel. You can feel free to read more about that bloody war elsewhere, but the important thing to note in regards to El Chapo’s wealth is that it is well known that he spent over $10 million to bribe top Mexican police officials to cease an investigation into his involvement.
That is $10 million US dollars in 1992, the equivalent of $16 million today.
Despite the war with the Tijuana Cartel, El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel had perfected their movements, shipments, and methods quickly becoming the #1 importer of drugs into the United States.
After the Tijuana Cartel botched an assassination on El Chapo that actually resulted in the death of Cardinal and Archbishop of Guadalajara Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, Guzmán was forced to flee. Authorities claimed that Guzmán was responsible for the Cardinal’s death, so El Chapo left his family with $200 million. He gave that same amount to his Sinaloa Cartel associates to make sure the company could continue to run in his absence.
His exodus eventually resulted in his arrest, hiding while near the Mexico-Guatemala border. The photo above was taken at one of the prisons where he stayed.
While El Chapo was in jail, the Sinaloa Cartel continued to run under the direction of his brother Arturo Guzmán Loera. There remained no question that El Chapo was still pulling the strings. Even behind bars, El Chapo was making money hand over fist. And what was he doing with it? Spending it on prison guards, bribing them to allow him women and anything else he wanted.
One of the most profitable years for Guzman actually happened while he was behind bars. Technically the Sinaloa Cartel had been run by Guzman, Palma, and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, but in 1999 El Chapo discovered a new revenue stream he could call his own: methamphetamines. Filling a hole caused by the arrest of drug lords previously responsible for the distribution of meth, El Chapo claimed himself as the new man in charge of meth.
He cultivated his own ties to China, Thailand and India to import the necessary precursor chemicals. Throughout the mountains of the states of Sinaloa, Durango, Jalisco, Michoacán and Nayarit, Guzmán constructed large methamphetamine laboratories and rapidly expanded his organization.
His habit of moving from place to place allowed him to nurture contacts throughout the country. He was now operating in 17 of 31 Mexican states. With his business expanding, he placed his trusted friend Ignacio Coronel Villarrealin charge of methamphetamine production; this way Guzmán could continue being the boss of bosses. Coronel Villarreal proved so reliable in the Guzmán business that he became known as the “Crystal King” [source].
Then in 2001, a prison guard named Francisco “El Chito” Camberos Rivera opened El Chapo’s jail gate remotely, stashed the drug kingpin in a laundry trolley, and walked him outside the gates beginning a manhunt that would last until 2014. It is believed the jailbreak cost him over $2 million.
Because of his serious notoriety, El Chapo was forced into hiding in the Sierra Madre mountains–specifically an area called the “Golden Triangle.” The rural aspect of the locale, plus the fact that access was limited to small dirt roads made it a great place for not only the Sinaloa’s drugs to be made, but also to keep him and his family safe. Mexican authorities were told that air assaults were made impossible because of spotters’ abilities to give El Chapo a 10-minute warning.
By this time the Sinaloa Cartel was trafficking every narcotic imaginable, assassinating officials for money, and laundering millions of dollars at a time. From 2009-2011, Fortune Magazine placed El Chapo as the 10th richest Mexican in the world–estimating that he was worth $1 billion dollars. More importantly, they argued that he was the second most powerful Mexican (behind Carlos Slim who was the richest man in the world).
Similarly, the DEA estimated that he had surpassed Pablo Escobar as far as reach and power.
The Mexican authorities’ big break came when El Chapo and Zambada met with their families for a reunion in February 2014. That brought him out of hiding and into a Mazatlán beach hotel, which proved much easier to grab the drug lord.
At this point in time, it was believed that the Sinaloa Cartel annual revenue exceeds $3 billion. They are responsible for 25% of the drugs that enter the United States. Despite his numerous arrests and subsequent escapes, it is safe to believe that his net worth of $1 billion is growing quickly.
That money came in handy regularly as El Chapo had to consistently fight calls for extradition to America. Legal defenses plus bribes can get very expensive very quickly. Guzmán faces US federal indictment in several locations including San Diego, New York, and Texas, among other places. Each of those is its own different case.
2015 was a big year for El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel. Although he spent a majority of 2015 in custody, his now infamous escape via an intricate series of tunnels was a big break for the drug lord. Apparently spending all that money to stay in Mexico was a smart move!
There’s no question that bribing the necessary number of officials and guards was ultimately expensive, but a billionaire like Guzmán would never put a price on freedom.
Guzman would spend the rest of 2015 in hiding, running from anyone looking to cash in on the $60 million MXN bounty that was offered for information leading to his arrest.
Ultimately, El Chapo’s own vanity resulted in his capture in early 2016. In October of 2015, the drug kingpin met with actor Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo for an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, an exercise many believe to have given away his position. The in-person meeting took place in a ranch in the western area of the Sierra Madre Mountains.
You can watch that 17-minute interview below. Most interestingly, it is the first time that he has ever admitted to a reporter that he “fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats” and that he supplied “more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.”
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Notice how he mentions that his business doesn’t decline while he’s in jail.
A few months later on January 8th, 2016, some citizens reported a large group of armed people in the coastal city of Los Mochis. The Mexican Navy’s Special Forces surveilled the house for a month before finally raiding the compound. After a long firefight, they discovered that El Chapo had escaped via a manhole but was later captured that same evening.
It is now believed that the United States will once again fight for his extradition. It’s hard to believe that El Chapo could avoid one final trip north of the border, but with the reach, power, and resources he owns anything is possible.
El Chapo was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Walter Rice to 12 years in federal prison and 100 hours of community accommodation or job training.
According to the ongoing investigation on Mexican Drug Lord El Chapo, Sinaloa cartel maintained a corruption budget of more than $1 million per month.