Doesn’t anybody drop acid anymore? Either that only happens at music festivals these days, or someone in the drug business has figured out an efficient way to transport large amounts of hallucinogens without letting the crazy seep into their pores. While the usual suspect (cocaine) occupies three spots on our list over the past several decades (including number one), the most recent list-worthy bust occurred just last year and involved the attempted transport of nearly 30 tons of marijuana — which is really too bad, because nobody likes a grumpy stoner.
$6.9 Billion – Cocaine — 1989
In 1989, the biggest bust in history yielded 20 tons of cocaine, which came out to a street value of about $7 billion, or five “doses” (whatever that means) for each person in the United States. Big time Mexican drug trafficker Rafael Munoz Talavera was about to make it rain on every man, woman and child, had his cohorts not been caught in their warehouse in Sylmar, an upscale residential community near the San Gabriel Mountain foothills in California. Evidence in the trial against warehouse manager Romero McTague (who received life without parole) and the other 6 men arrested in Sylmar (which did not include Munoz), showed that this bust was small potatoes in comparison to the additional 77 tons that had moved through the warehouse in previous months, during which time the DEA was planning their attack. This brought in a whopping $81 million in transportation fees alone, according to the prosecution. Munoz managed to escape jail time for Sylmar, and also remained unscathed for his alleged involvement in importing 200 total tons of cocaine between 1988-89. His reign came to an end in 1998 though, when he was murdered by a rival Mexican drug group and drifted away to his own personal powder bowl in the sky.
$4 Billion – Heroin — 1991
It’s the summer of 1991 in Hayward, California: Grunge is happening, Freddy Mercury is still alive, and no one has a clue that Steely Dan is about to spontaneously reunite. Great time for music; a not-so-great time for the heroin business. Authorities snagged nearly 1,200 pounds of China white heroin from a warehouse in Hayward, making it the largest heroin seizure in U.S. history. The estimated street value of 1,200 pounds of Mr. Brownstone came out to almost $4 billion. At the time, the DEA even said that this collection represented 5% of the world’s total yearly production. To get to it’s place in the sun, the drug traveled all the way from Thailand to Taiwan, stowed away on a ship to the Port of Oakland and hitchhiked to Hayward, only to meet its demise before it had enough time to kill a comedian.
$1 Billion – Cocaine – 1984
Coming in at number three on our list in true Blow fashion, was the 1984 raid of Sr. Pablo Escobar’s now infamous “Tranquilandia,” which was a large-scale laboratory used to process and mass-produce really good cocaine. Stowed away in the Colombian jungle, the Medellin Cartel boss lost an estimated street value of more than $1 billion when the Colombian National Police snatched up 14 tons of cocaine after getting a hot tip from the DEA. The complex, which boasted 19 total laboratories, an independent water source and electrical system, had actual dormitories for the lab workers to blow their noses and sleep off the stimulant. The Cartel also constructed eight private airstrips in the area, specifically for the transportation of their product. Apparently the DEA knows what they’re doing though, and those smarties put tracking devices on ether (which is a major chemical in processing cocaine) tanks purchased by a Medellin Cartel associate, from some chemical plant in New Jersey (shocker). Their fancy devices led them into the Colombian jungles, and the rest is Johnny Depp history.
$600 Million – Cocaine – 2007
Coke smugglers should really strive to do better work, because in 2007, 20 tons of the drug got intercepted yet again, this time from a Panamanian ship named the Gatun. Unlike most of the busts on the list, this one never made it to a warehouse, and was dubbed the largest maritime cocaine bust in U.S. history, thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard. They were just hanging out on a Sunday, patrollin’, and they caught got the Gatun ridin’ real dirty. DEA administrator Karen Tandy said that (duh), traffickers at least try to make an effort to stash their stash in secret compartments or inside other humans, but these guys “simply loaded these bales of cocaine into cargo containers on the top of the deck of this freighter. They were hiding in plain sight on the main deck.” D’oh! And to think they would have raked in nearly $600 million for this trip, had they not been so obvious.
$20 Million – Marijuana – 2010
Finally, in true Weeds fashion, no less (because television and movies make real life more relatable, right?), authorities discovered 30 tons of weed (approximately $20 million) in a 600-yard tunnel under the California-Mexico border in November of last year. The tunnel, which came complete with rail system, lighting and ventilation, would have been more than fit to house several families from New York City’s mole people population. The space connected a warehouse in Tijuana to one in San Diego, which now explains how they sedate the beasts at the San Diego Zoo. It also explains how San Diego’s economy became so dependent on “international trade.” 30 tons of weed. That equals at least 5 male elephants, which don’t bring nearly as many repeat customers. Interestingly enough, two days prior to the bust, California constituents voted against a proposition to legalize the personal use of marijuana. To think they could have donated all that green to charity. Sigh.