03/01/2023 01:31 AM By Lisa Anderson
Jacob Diaz
Jacob Diaz
Story by Taylor Strickland • Photo by Joshua Jacobs


Former Drug Cartel Operative Gives Back

“I never considered myself a drug dealer,” says Ocala-based entrepreneur and credit specialist, Jacob Diaz. “Even when I was arrested, I told them it’s impossible, because I don’t sell drugs. I really told myself that’s not what I was doing.”

Jacob is a former key operative of the Beltran-Leyva Organization’s U.S.-based distribution network, once a faction of Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa Cartel, and notably responsible for trafficking cocaine, heroin, and marijuana into the United States. He has been featured in numerous articles and interviews, including a documentary series on VICE TV called I Was a Teenage Felon.


“I grew up in extreme poverty,” Jacob explains. “I was the second of four siblings and had a single mother. We had nothing to do except breaking into abandoned houses, stealing, and spray-painting.”

The theft eventually landed young Jacob in hot water. He and a neighborhood friend were sent to a correctional bootcamp for juvenile defenders. At 10 and 11, they struggled to comprehend the gravity of the situation. “Yeah,” Jacob laughs incredulously, “We went camping together on this thing that was supposed to teach you a lesson. Everyone else was around 15 or 16 years old, and we were like little babies compared to them. After three days, they just sent us home.”

“Despite all that, I feel I never looked for trouble,” Jacob insists. “Trouble always seemed to find me. I was just in a bad situation.”

Jacob’s bad situation devolved into a crisis the year he turned 13, when his mother failed to return home. “I didn’t think anything of it at first. Sometimes, she wouldn’t come home for days, but then two weeks went by, and the landlord said we had to go.”

Given her abandonment, Jacob still has a surprising amount of empathy for his mother. “I can only imagine how hard it was for her as a single mother, let alone with four kids.”

Jacob’s eldest brother had already left home, and his younger siblings were taken in by friends or foster parents. He was left to fend for himself. “I had a couple buddies in the neighborhood. One worked pizza delivery. She also smoked weed. I figured I could sell it to her for a profit, which would be a pizza, because I was hungry.”

A representative from the Department of Children and Families eventually found Jacob. “I said I would go back [to school] if they put me with my little brother. I used the weed to buy him things he needed.

“It became infectious,” Jacob explains. “It was like when I was little and got away with things. It just snowballed from there.”

Knock, Knock

 Selling drugs was a means to an end for Jacob. As a child, the end was food, but as an adult, Jacob developed more expensive tastes. “It took off once I graduated,” he says. “It was no longer about needing food or clothes. It was because I wanted a house, vacations, and all the stuff you saw on TV.”

The risk did not dissuade Jacob. “In my eyes, all I was doing was collecting money. I didn’t think you could go to jail for collecting money. I was naïve to the law.

“I knew I was being arrested the day it happened.” Jacob was living at an undisclosed location with an entrance only he and his colleagues knew about. The tipoff was the sound of a knock at his unused front door. “I knew it was the cops.”

Jacob’s intuition was correct. “I was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 or more kilos of coke, and that carries a 10-year to life minimum sentence. I was in from 2011 to 2018.”

Giving Back

“A guy once said to me, ‘If you ever want to know what it’s like being dead, just come to prison,’” Jacob recites. “’People only remember you on birthdays and holidays, same thing when you’re dead.’ He was right.”

Incarceration gave Jacob the time he needed to reevaluate his life. “The whole time I was there, I kept telling myself I wanted to do something good, to make up for the damage I caused.”

Since his release, Jacob has started a business. He now works as a credit specialist. “I made a commitment to benefit my community. Since then, I started getting recognition. My Instagram started flooding, my followers started going up. People were giving good feedback, saying, ‘I’m so proud of you. I’m sorry you had to go through that.’”

Jacob has since reconnected with his family, including his mother. The latter relationship is still rocky, but he has excised that wound as best he can. “I asked her why she left. She told me, ‘It was because I felt like you didn’t love me.’ For a second, I could understand where she could see that, because I wasn’t an angel, but all kids can be bad. I replied to her, ‘I don’t think that’s good enough. I don’t accept that answer.’”

As for the future, Jacob has big plans. “I’d like to spread the message—not to be a motivational speaker, but to be part of a movement that’s actually pushing positivity. I want to do other interviews and documentaries, to continue to give back to my community by educating them on credit and finance. I’d like to have kids, too.”
Learn More

Watch Jacob’s interview titled Running a Mexican Drug Cartel as a Teenager at youtube.com/@vice-tv.

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