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Top 10 Most Notorious Criminals of All Time

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by Thomas Robinson.

Some of the most famous felons in history have been notorious career criminals. From drug kingpins like Mexico’s Amado Carillo Fuentes of the Juarez cartel, to outlaws like Jesse James, to mob bosses like Mickey Cohen, history is full of infamous lawbreakers who made their living from crime. WatchMojo counts down ten of the most dangerous career criminals ever.

Special thanks to our user Muppet_Face for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Most%20Infamous%20Career%20Criminals%20in%20History


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Script written by Thomas Robinson.

Top 10 Most Notorious Career Criminals in History

It turns out crime does pay. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Real-Life Career Criminals.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most charismatic, disturbed, and ruthless people ever to make a living by breaking the law.

#10: Leonid Minin
1947 -

Originally born in the Ukraine, Leonid Minin made a name for himself in the underworld as an international arms dealer, selling dangerous weapons to dangerous people. His more notorious clients included Charles Taylor, the controversial ex-president of Liberia, and several revolutionary groups across West Africa. While Minin’s business fueled the fires of war, the man was fueling himself with drugs, alcohol, and ladies of the night. He was discovered among the company of all three of those things, as well around half a million dollars worth of blood diamonds, when he was finally arrested in Italy in 2000.

#9: Charles Ponzi
1882 - 1949

You don’t always need a gun to rob people blind. Styling himself as a businessman, Charles Ponzi swindled millions of dollars from his “investors” with a plan that involved redeeming postal reply coupons from other countries for postage stamps in the United States, which could then be sold to make a profit. If it sounds to good to be true, that’s because it was, and the only person who profited from the so-called business plan was Ponzi himself - who ended up pocketing most of the money. Ponzi was a pioneer among white-collar criminals, and his legacy lives on today in what is now called a “Ponzi scheme.”

#8: Jesse James
1847 - 1882

One of the most legendary figures in the American Old West, Jesse James was also a notorious train robber, and he and the other members of the James-Younger gang weren’t above murdering anybody who got in their way. Over their career, James and his gang were believed to have stolen approximately $200,000, but were nevertheless admired in their home state of Missouri, mostly because of their support for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. James’ status as a folk hero was finally cemented when fellow gang member Robert Ford shot him in the back. Guess the town wasn’t big enough for the both of ‘em.

#7: Amado Carrillo Fuentes
1956 - 1997

For a while, there was no bringing down this “Lord of the Skies.” Amado Carrillo Fuentes was the leader of Mexico’s Juarez Cartel, a position he obtained by assassinating the group’s previous boss, Rafael Aguilar Guajardo. Fuentes was known as “El Senor de Los Cielos” thanks to the giant fleet of planes he used to transport cocaine around the world. He was also one of the wealthiest criminals in history, with a net worth estimated at over $25 billion U.S. dollars. Fuentes died in 1997 from complications during the plastic surgery he was getting to hide from authorities.

#6: James ‘Whitey’ Bulger
1929 -

You’ve gotta be wicked smart to evade the authorities for as long as this Southie. Born in Boston, James Bulger quickly made a name for himself as a young ne’er-do-well, known for stealing and getting into fights. Nicknamed “Whitey” by the local constabulary because of his light blond hair, Bulger eventually moved up in the underworld, becoming the boss of Boston’s “Winter Hill Gang,” where he was responsible for crimes that ranged from extortion to arms trafficking. In 1994, Bulger went into hiding, and wasn’t apprehended until 2011, at the ripe old age of 81.

#5: Jean-Bernard Lasnaud
1942 -

Sometimes the biggest criminals can be hiding in plain sight. Originally born in France, Jean-Bernard Lasnaud was a wanted man in several European countries during the 1980s and 90s due to his arms trafficking, which broke several international trade embargoes. Lasnaud went on the run to avoid capture, and eventually resurfaced in Florida, where he brazenly continued conducting his illegal business from the comfort of his extravagant condo. He even had his own publicly accessible website, where anyone could buy a fighter jet or a machine gun, so long as they had the cash and the “proper papers.” After disappearing in 2002, Lasnaud was finally arrested in Switzerland that same year.

#4: Meyer Harris ‘Mickey’ Cohen
1913 - 1976

You don’t have to act in a movie to be a Hollywood star. Just ask Mickey Cohen, one of the most infamous mob bosses Los Angeles has ever seen. A scrappy fella who originally worked as muscle for the mafia during Prohibition, Cohen worked his way up the organization’s ladder until he reached the top. Always a snappy dresser, Cohen was as good a publicist as he was a gangster; he knew how to play to the media and give even his most heinous actions a positive spin. It’s no wonder, then, that Cohen was only ever arrested for tax evasion, despite having been guilty of far worse crimes.

#3: John Dillinger
1903 - 1934

Yet another bad guy with good publicity, John Dillinger was a Depression-era bank robber whose penchant for breaking the law was complemented by his love of the spotlight. Dillinger was very fond of playing Robin Hood, stealing from the rich banks and giving his spoils back to the people. While these claims are still disputed today, Dillinger was painted as a kind of folk hero; an image that was only helped by his multiple daring escapes from jail. When he was shot and killed outside a movie theater in 1934, a surprising amount of people appeared to mourn for the so-called “Public Enemy no. 1.”

#2: Pablo Escobar
1949 - 1993

Formerly the main purveyor of Colombia’s other addictive substance, Pablo Escobar wore many hats during his tenure in the Colombian-based Medellin Cartel, including drug lord and terrorist. Escobar’s massive drug empire allowed him to become not only one of the most powerful people in his native country, but also one of the wealthiest men in the world, according to Forbes magazine. Escobar was able to keep his wealth thanks to his ruthless pragmatism, and he was always willing to bribe, bump off, or bomb anyone that got in his way. The violent man met a violent end in 1993, when he was shot during a rooftop chase.

Before we unveil our top picks, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Carlos the Jackal [aka Ilyich Ramírez Sánchez]
1949 -

- Viktor Bout
1967 -

- Sarkis Soghanalian
1929 - 2011

#1: Al Capone
1899 - 1947

He’s the man who put the “organized” in organized crime. During the Prohibition era, Al Capone seized the opportunity to make boatloads of cash off the at-the-time illegal liquor business. Capone’s violent methods of expanding his bootlegging operation across the United States – including the bloody “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre” – went mostly unchallenged, thanks to the unsurprising fact that people enjoy their booze. Capone was also a bit of a celebrity, and was even known to donate his ill-gotten gains to charities. Too bad he forgot to donate some of his fortune to the federal government however, as he was put away for tax evasion in 1932.

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