El Chapo's $12.6B fortune ordered forfeited: What to know about the multibillion-dollar drug empire

Infamous drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera — better known as as "El Chapo" — was sentenced to life in prison in New York on Wednesday.

For almost 30 years, El Chapo, 62, sold enough drugs to build a massive fortune, even making it onto Forbes list of billionaires for four years in a row, beginning in 2009. During those years, the outlet estimated he was worth at least $1 billion.

According to court papers, the Mexico native was estimated to have handled more than $11 billion worth of cocaine, more than $11 million worth of heroin and $846 million worth of marijuana as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, The New York Times reported earlier this month.

Combined, those estimates suggest Guzmán made more than $12.67 billion. On Wednesday, Guzmán was ordered to forfeit that fortune, according to prosecutors.

“It’s ridiculous for the government to think he has all this money,” Guzman’s attorney Mariel Colon Miro told Fox News last week. “The government hasn’t been able to locate a single penny.”

Prosecutors initially sought more than $14 billion from the drug lord after he was extradited to the U.S. in 2017, Forbes reported at the time.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury identified 288 companies in 2014 that were reportedly involved with Guzman’s money-laundering operation and has at various times mentioned properties in Mexico that were filled with up to $30 million, according to The Telegraph.

However, the government hasn’t been able to track down any of Guzman’s fortune yet.

Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA), told The Telegraph the government’s chances of finding El Chapo’s fortune are “minuscule,” but he believes the drug kingpin definitely has plenty of money somewhere.

“The intelligence apparatus would have to be absolutely perfect to know for sure [how much he has],” Vigil told the outlet. “They really don’t have much of an idea. It’s a guesstimate. But we do know he has a tremendous fortune.”

Guzman’s lavish lifestyle was confirmed by witness testimony over the course of his three-month trial, beginning in November last year and ending in February when he was found guilty.

The drug lord had reportedly owned four planes, a yacht he called “Chapito,” multiple beach houses — including a $10 million property in Acapulco — and even his own zoo, The New York Post reported last year.

He was also known for carrying around a diamond-encrusted pistol.

Those descriptions of his empire that paid for private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were a fallacy, his lawyers claimed Wednesday after his sentencing. And the chances the U.S. government could collect on a roughly $12 billion forfeiture order are zero, they added.


Guzman was found guilty in February of trafficking tons of cocaine and other drugs into the U.S. as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. The three-month trial detailed grisly killings, a bizarre escape and drugs hidden in jalapeno cans.

“El Chapo” was said to have escaped from a Mexican jail in 2001 after serving eight years by hiding in a laundry bin and managed to evade the law by stowing away in one of his mountainside hideaways.

He was recaptured in 2014 but escaped a year later through a mile-long lighted tunnel. Guzman was captured again nearly six months later.

Fox News’ Talia Kaplan and Lukas Mikelionis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.