The Chicago Syndicate: Frank Lucas
Showing posts with label Frank Lucas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Lucas. Show all posts

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Frank Lucas, Hollywood´s "American Gangster," and La Cosa Nostra Connection

Special to The Chicago Syndicate by Ron Chepesiuk

Hollywood has been hard at work molding the image of former 1970s Harlem drug trafficker Frank ¨Superfly¨ Lucas into the prototype of the modern American gangster. Frank Lucas, Hollywood´s 'American Gangster,' and La Cosa Nostra Connection The image of the Lucas character, played by Denzel Washington, has some shades of Edgar G. Robinson´s Little Caesar and Al Pacino´s Scarface, but while ruthless, the character is also African American, entrepreneurial, independent and even visionary. As part of the creation, Universal, the movie´s maker, would have us believe that Lucas was so entrepreneurial and independent that he became the first black gangster to break free of La Cosa Nostra´s iron grip on the American heroin trade and develop his own independent heroin trafficking network.

In the 2000 New York magazine article upon which the ¨American Gangster¨ movie is based, author Mark Jacobson wrote that if he (Lucas) really wanted to become "white-boy rich, Donald Trump rich," Lucas thought, he'd have to ´cut out the guineas (Italian American mafia). He'd learned as much working for Bumpy (Johnson) , picking up "packages" from Fat Tony Salerno's Pleasant Avenue guys, men with names like Joey Farts and Kid Blast.¨

Jacobson quotes Lucas as saying, ¨I needed my own supply. That's when I decided to go to Southeast Asia. Because the war was on, and people were talking about GIs getting strung out over there. I knew if the shit is good enough to string out GIs, then I can make myself a killing."

In the movie, the Italian American mafia is represented by the character Dominic Cattano. Played by Amand Assante, Cattano works out a deal in which Superfly becomes the white Mob´s major supplier of potent Number 4 heroin from Southeast Asia. At the end of the ¨historic¨ meeting, Lucas dramatically tells his wife: ¨ They (the Mob) work for me now.¨

So how accurate is Hollywood´s depiction of the Lucas--La Cosa relationship? Not very. It´s one of many inaccuracies that make the movie largely a work of fiction. Frank Lucas did not have any independent source of Asian heroin, and he was never in any position to dictate business terms to the Mob. In fact, for most of his career, Lucas got his smack the old fashion way: from La Cosa Nostra.

First some historical background. From the 1950s through the 1960s, the old reliable French Connection dominated the heroin drug trade. It was an efficient network in which Corsican gangsters transported the morphine base from the poppy fields grown in Turkey to Marseille, France. The morphine base was then refined into heroin and smuggled into the U.S., the connection´s biggest market, via Sicily, Italy, and Montreal, Canada.

It was efficient network that, according to the U.S. government reports, accounted for as much as 80 percent of the heroin smuggled into the U.S. By the early 1970s, however, international law enforcement was having great success against the French Connection and taking down its key mobsters. Meanwhile, the U.S persuaded the Turkish government to tighten surveillance of the country´s poppy fields, purchase the poppy crop from its farmers and institute procedures to encourage crop substitution. By 1972, the French Connection was in shambles.

Up until law enforcement began having success against Lucas, he, like other New York city heroin dealers, was getting his heroin supply from La Cosa Nostra. My research shows that Lucas did not come to Bangkok, Thailand until about 1974. Joe Sullivan a retired DEA agent who worked drug cases in East Harlem in the 1970s, recalled: ¨The French Connection was in the process of being dismantled and the supply was tight and expensive,. All the big drug traffickers, including Lucas, was getting their heroin supply from the Italians. Lucas was getting it for about $200,000 a kilo.¨

It didn´t mean that Lucas wasn´t making a lot of money in getting his heroin from the Mob. As Sullivan revealed.¨They (La Cosa Nostra) trusted their foreign contacts and were satisfied with bringing their heroin into the country. But the Italians thought it beneath them to whack the heroin, mix it, put it in glassine envelopes and hawk in the street. They preferred to sell their heroin to the black dealers. A few black dealers, such as Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, became successful controlling the drug business on the street while insulating themselves from the actual distributor.¨

When this author asked Lucas if he had ever worked with the Italian mob, the mere suggestion was enough to set off the old drug trafficker. ¨I was not going to have no fucking fat guy leaning back in the chair, smoking a $20 cigar and bragging how he had another nigger in Harlem working for him,¨Superfly roared. ¨I don´t play that game. The Italians were charging $50,000 to 75,000 a kilo, and I was getting it for $4,000 a kilo (from Asia). My junk traveled from the Mekong Valley to the Ho Chi Minh trail to the U.S.¨

The historical record, however, suggests that for most of Superfly´s criminal career it was otherwise. In June 1974, Lucas went to trial with 12 others for conspiracy to traffic heroin. It was just seven months before the authorities raided his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, and busted him for good. And still at that late date, no mention is made in the court records and in the press of any Asian connection in his drug trafficking plan. That didn´t happen until 1977 when Lucas was in prison and got busted again for trying to keep his heroin network operating.

One defendant in that 1974 trial was prominent Italian American mobster Ralph Tutino, aka ¨The General.¨ Lucas, Tutino and the other defendants were accused of involvement in a heroin smuggling conspiracy. The prosecutor identified Tutino as the principle heroin supplier, and Lucas, along with Robert Stepeney, another heroin drug dealer, as the major distributors.

According to the indictment, La Cosa Nostra mobster Antonio DeLutro delivered a package of about 11 pounds of heroin to Anthony Verzino in November1973 and received, as payment, $250,000 in two installments. Then in December 1973, Mario Perna, and Ernest Maliza, two other La Cosa mobsters, delivered a package containing 22 pounds of heroin to Lucas at the Van Cortlandt Motel in the Bronx. As these transactions clearly show, Lucas was getting his dope from La Cosa Nostra.

Tutino, who lived in the Bronx but had his headquarters in East Harlem, was a big-time heroin trafficker during the French Connection´s heyday. When the authorities busted the French Connection in 1972, many La Cosa Nostra godfathers who had thrived in the old days were now having trouble finding sources of heroin supply. But not Tutino. The authorities suspected him of having a direct connection to Mexican and Asian suppliers.

Lew Rice, a former DEA agent, interrogated Lucas when he decided to become an informant after facing 70 years in jail. According to Rice, after being busted for heroin trafficking, Lucas readily acknowledged to Rice that La Cosa Nostra was his major source of supply. ¨Lucas told me he was getting his heroin from Tutino, The General,¨ Rice recalled.

Lucas´ relationship with La Cosa Nostra could only be described as a rocky marriage of convenience, for Superfly, according to DEA sources, was constantly in deep financial trouble with La Cosa Nostra. He even owed two well-connected mafioso from the Gambino crime family $300,000 and only managed to avoid ending up buried in cement because the two Gambino crime family mobsters were arrested and carted off to jail in 1974.

The mobsters faced the prospect of long prison sentences, so they began singing like the proverbial canary. They revealed that one of their biggest customers for heroin was a prominent and flamboyant black drug dealer named Frank Lucas, who liked to call himself "Superfly." The informants' information allowed the authorities to obtain a search warrant, which authorized the raid on Lucas's house on Sheffield Road in Teaneck, New Jersey, in late January, 1975. This was the beginning of the end of Frank Lucas´s big-time criminal career, thanks to La Cosa Nostra.

Leslie Ike¨ Atkinson, a former U.S. army master sergeant and prominent black American drug dealer of the 1960s to mid 1970s, not Lucas, was the one who pioneered the Asian heroin connection. It is Atkinson, DEA sources confirm, who supplied Superfly with his Asian heroin, making him, not Lucas, deserving of the title, ¨American Gangster.¨

Atkinson, whom the DEA dubbed ¨Sergeant Smack,¨ got a close up look at Lucas´ dealings with La Cosa Nostra. In a recent interview, he remembered the time he was imprisoned in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in the mid 1970s and two members of the Italian American mob paid him a visit. ¨´Frank Lucas said to come see you,´ one of the gangsters told me. ´He did what?´ I said. The mobsters said: ´Frank owes us $80,000 and he said you would take care of it.¨ Atkinson laughed. ¨Frank actually thought he could send two wise guys to me and I would pay off his debt."

Atkinson recalled another occasion when he went to New Jersey to pick up some money Lucas owed him. When he arrived at his destination, Lucas had men posted outside his residence. Superfly was in deep trouble with the Mob again.

So, yes, La Cosa Nostra did come to Frank ¨Superfly¨ Lucas. But it was to collect money owed him, not to get its heroin supply.

Investigative journalist Ron Chepesiuk is a consultant to the History Channel´s ¨Gangland¨ series and the co-author and co-producer of the book and DVD titled SUPERFLY: THE TRUE-UNTOLD STORY OF FRANK LUCAS THE AMERICANGANGSTER
(www.franklucasamericangangster.com.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

American Gangster on DVD

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe butt heads in the excellent crime drama, American Gangster. The film, based on a true crime story has, in addition to superb acting, excellent cinematography, interesting sets, and the hard-hitting direction by Ridley Scott.

This is an adult crime thriller with powerful dialogue and shocking images you won’t soon forget. The special features on the bonus disk are very entertaining and extremely beneficial for their historical value. The added 18 minutes include longer scenes and an extended ending.

Frank Lucas (born 1930 in Washington, DC), was a heroin dealer and organized crime boss in Harlem during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was particularly known for cutting out middlemen in the drug trade and buying heroin directly from his source in Southeast Asia. He organized the smuggle of heroin from Vietnam to the US by using the coffins of dead American servicemen ("cadaver connection"). Excerpt from the New York Magazine, 14 August 2000.

But the story of Frank Lucas (Washington) is much more than just a gangster who takes over the New York mob trade with some devious methods. It’s also about a relentless, righteous cop, Ritchie Roberts (Crowe), who will stop at nothing to bring him down. When their worlds collide, the two find themselves in a confrontation with no chance of backing out.

Crowe as the persistent cop, and Washington as the relentless drug king pin, are excellent together. Crowe brings his tough, unforgiving persona to the role of Roberts. While other cops think he’s a sucker for not taking mob money, it’s this ethic that keeps him going on his quest to bring down the mob. Nothing stands in the way of Roberts, and Crowe makes him believable. Washington does what he does best—shows the burning side of his character. Much like his past performances in films such as Training Day, Man On Fire and Déjà Vu, his Lucas controls the screen with a hot temperament and a strong will.

Keeping the action going, with not a stretch or a yawn in the lengthy film, director Ridley Scott is back in true form from his early days of Blade Runner, Thelma And Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. I like this side of Scott. I believe he makes better films when the subject matter is powerful and the pace is intense.

DVD Features:

Topping the special features are the Case Files. In them you will find three bonuses, “Setting up the take down", “Testing for heroin", and “Script meeting". Of the three I enjoyed the take down where they bust Lucas’s heroin den. It was interesting to see how it was filmed and Crowe kidding around on the set.

Of the other features, "Tru Blu" was outstanding. In it you will get to meet the still-living Richie Roberts and Frank Lucas, and hear what they have to say about the film’s authenticity and their role in collaboration.

There are two ways you can watch American Gangster, the R rated film version and the extended, Unrated film. Either way, the film plays well, but why not see it with the 18 additional minutes?Charles Tyrwhitt Coupons and Discount Codes

FINAL ANALYSIS:
American Gangster is a very good, all-encompassing crime film containing a lot of action, an interesting plot and awesome acting. The special features are definitely worth the watch.

Reviewed by John Delia

Friday, January 18, 2008

DEA Agents Say They are Not Villians, Sue "American Gangster" Filmmakers

A group of retired federal drug enforcement agents sued NBC Universal on Wednesday, saying the movie "American Gangster" falsely made them out to be villains in the story of a Harlem heroin trafficker played by Denzel Washington.

Shortly after the movie was released, the American Gangster Myth was brought to light and reporter Clarence Walker answered the question "What's the Real Story Behind Hollywood's Portrayal of Harlem Drug Kingpin Frank Lucas?".

The suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, claims that the movie defamed hundreds of DEA agents and New York police officers by claiming at the end that Frank Lucas' collaboration with prosecutors "led to the convictions of three quarters of New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency."

Lucas became a government informant after his conviction in 1975, and his tips led to the prosecutions of several fellow drug dealers.

According to the lawsuit, no DEA agents or New York police officers were ever convicted as a result of tips provided by Lucas.

"This is absolutely off the wall," said Dominic Amorosa, who was a prosecutor in the federal case against Lucas in 1975 and now represents the DEA agents.

Amorosa said the filmmakers had unfairly blackened the reputation of agents who risked their lives to put away Lucas and other drug felons in the 1970s and 1980s.

"I don't know what these people were thinking, but they are going to pay for it," he said.

A Universal Pictures spokesman, Michael Moses, said in a written statement that the lawsuit is "entirely without merit."

"'American Gangster' does not defame these or any federal agents," he said, adding that the corrupt law enforcers depicted in the film were supposed to be New York police officers, not DEA agents.

In a Dec. 7 letter to Amorosa, NBC Universal Senior Vice President David Burg called the film a "fictionalized work," although at other times Universal spokesmen have said they have "every confidence that the material facts are conveyed truthfully."

A DEA spokesman in Washington, Garrison Courtney, confirmed that none of its agents were ever charged with wrongdoing in the case.

New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said he also wasn't aware of any NYPD officers ever prosecuted in connection with Lucas.

"Hollywood is famous for distorting reality," Browne wrote in an e-mail. He brushed off the idea that the department would get involved in the case. "If we sued every time the movies made reality unrecognizable, there would be time for nothing else."

Former DEA agents Jack Toal, Gregory Korniloff and Louis Diaz filed the class action suit on behalf of themselves and 400 other agents who worked in the city between 1973 and 1985. They asked for at least $50 million in punitive damages.

"Most of the movie is not true," said Toal, who identified himself as one of the agents who worked with Lucas after he became an informant. "If they had said, `this is based on a false story,' it would have been a lot better."

Korniloff said in the suit that he was a lead agent assigned to the case and was present when agents and police officers raided Lucas' home in Teaneck, N.J., in 1975 -- a scene depicted in "American Gangster."

In the Ridley Scott film, which was released in November and also featured Russell Crowe and Josh Brolin, corrupt narcotics agents shoot the drug dealer's dog, assault his wife and brazenly steal currency stashed in the house while making the arrest.

The suit said that in real life the search was carried out legally; nearly $585,000 in currency was seized in accordance with a valid search warrant.

Thanks to David P. Caruso

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ex-DEA Agent Sends Cease & Desist Letter to "American Gangster" Move Studio

Since American Gangster's blockbuster release in theaters, the movie has been surrounded by controversy. Billed as being based on a true story, real-life characters have spoken out against the adaptation, calling it little more than fiction.
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Now, one New York City Drug Enforcement Agent is threatening to make it a legal issue, accusing Universal Pictures, the studio responsible for the flick, of making "false and defamatory statements," according to TMZ.

Gregory Korniloff, a retired NYC DEA agent, sent a cease and desist letter through his attorney to the general counsel of NBC Universal and to the president of the studio.

Korniloff is demanding a retraction of statements made in the movie. The letter claims that the movie -- which portrays the life of infamous '60s and '70s Harlem heroin dealer Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington) -- incorrectly states that a third of NY DEA agents were convicted on charges related to Lucas. The letter also alleges that facts in the movie are misleading including heroin being smuggled in Vietnam veteran coffins and the amount of money stolen from Lucas' home during a raid.

Korniloff was the case agent for the DEA and "personally participated in the search of Lucas' house ... and the arrest of Lucas on that same day." Korniloff's lawyer, Dominic Amorosa, says the way the movie portrays that search "destroys the reputation of honest and courageous public servants by deliberately misrepresenting the facts."

As SOHH previously reported, other real-life characters and people close to the events aren't happy with the way things were depicted in the movie.

New York-based DEA agent Joseph Sullivan said the whole thing is a pack of lies. He was at a raid on Lucas' Teaneck, N.J., home after two members of the Mafia ratted out the drug lord.

"His name is Frank Lucas and he was a drug dealer - that's where the truth in this movie ends," Sullivan said.

NBC Universal did not respond to requests for comment.

Thanks to Brandi Hopper

Monday, November 12, 2007

Full American Gangster Trailer

American Gangster is a 2007 crime film written by Steve Zaillian and directed by Ridley Scott. The film stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real-life heroin kingpin from Manhattan who smuggled the drug into the country in the coffins of American soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. Crowe portrays Richie Roberts, a detective who brings down Lucas's drug empire.

Spotlight on American Gangster

Frank Lucas, at 77 years old and wheelchair-bound, still has a small gang doting on him.

Sons, publicists and friends swirl around Lucas in nearly perpetual commotion, fetching him everything from pills to a cooling fan. A recent visitor is directed kindly -- though in no uncertain terms -- in and out of the room. There's still plenty of power left in Lucas's presence, even though his days as a Harlem drug lord are decades past, his millions long ago seized by the government.

Lucas is again in the spotlight because of "American Gangster," the Ridley Scott-directed film in which Denzel Washington portrays Lucas. A special as part of BET's "American Gangster" series also recently profiled him.

"If you can find one better than Denzel Washington, I want you to tell me," says Lucas, in a halting drawl similar to bluesman John Lee Hooker's. "What's their name? What's their name?" Video Watch Washington and Russell Crowe discuss the film »

Lucas's story is unbelievable even by Hollywood standards. After a childhood in North Carolina, he moved to New York, eventually becoming the driver for and pupil of Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, a powerful Harlem gangster.
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After Johnson's death, Lucas, who went by the nickname "Superfly," took over his heroin dealing business, but made one audacious change: He established his own drug connection, cutting out the middleman and landing huge amounts of nearly pure heroin. Sold on the street as "Blue Magic," it netted him an incredible profit -- up to $1 million in revenue a day, Lucas claims.

He managed this by buying his dope in the jungles of Vietnam, tipped off by U.S. soldiers then fighting in the war. To get the drugs back to the States, Lucas established the infamous "cadaver connection," hiding the heroin in the caskets of dead soldiers.

Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, who prosecuted Lucas and played a major role in bringing him down, once called the operation "one of the most outrageous dope-smuggling gangs ever."

Lucas wasn't the only arrogant gangster in New York then. His rival, Leroy "Nicky" Barnes (played by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the film) appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in an article titled "Mr. Untouchable" -- which prompted President Jimmy Carter to pressure for a crackdown.

In "American Gangster," Lucas is depicted to a certain degree as an entrepreneur who broke through the racial barriers of traditional organized crime. "That had nothing to do with it," says Lucas, who also sold his drugs to Italian mob families. "I saw an opening, a soft spot -- the soft part of the belly -- and I took advantage of it."

After Lucas was arrested in 1975, his sentences in New York and New Jersey added up to 70 years in prison and he quickly turned into a government informant, most notably against the then-corrupt Special Investigations Unit of the NYPD.

Out of 70 SIU officers, 52 were eventually either jailed or indicted. Lucas claims he only informed on corrupt police officers. He insists: "The only people I every ever informed on were them ... cops who took my money."

But prosecutors involved in the case have contradicted that. Richard "Richie" Roberts, who prosecuted the superseding indictment in New Jersey, says plainly: "Absolutely not. He gets mad every time I tell the truth."

Lucas's sentence was reduced to five years after his informant work. Once released, Lucas was quickly arrested again for drug dealing, but on a much smaller scale. He served seven more years and, when he got out of jail in 1991, Roberts came to his aid ("I couldn't buy a pack of cigarettes," says Lucas).

Today, they are good friends. Roberts is Lucas's defense attorney and the godfather to his 11-year-old son, Ray, whose education Roberts has paid for. "We've had our ups and downs over the years," says Roberts, speaking from his New Jersey law office. "The charm that Denzel exhibited in the movie was the way Frank was. Frank would probably shoot you and make you feel pretty good as you were dying."

Russell Crowe plays Roberts in the film, though the character is a composite of the many detectives and prosecutors who arrested and tried Lucas. Lucas for a moment hesitates to speak ill of his friend, but the inflated screen persona given to Roberts riles him.

"Richie Roberts and his crack crew couldn't catch a ... bad cold in Alaska in the wintertime," he says with undimmed competitiveness. "They were the bad-news cops."

It was originally Nicholas Pileggi (who wrote "Wiseguys," the book "Goodfellas" was based on) who brought attention to Lucas' story. He introduced Lucas to writer Mark Jacobson, whose 2000 New York Magazine article was the basis for "American Gangster."

Lucas, Roberts, Pileggi and Jacobson flew to L.A. together to meet with producer Brian Grazer, who Pileggi says, snapping his fingers, "bought it right in the room."

The stars of "American Gangster" and its writer, Steve Zaillian, consulted heavily with Lucas and Roberts. Lucas was present almost daily on the Harlem film set, lending Washington frequent advice on details like how he taped his gun.

On the BET special, Washington said about Lucas: "He'll have you working for him by the end of the day."

Of the slow pace of film productions, Lucas poetically says: "It was kind of like watching a flower grow in the nighttime." He then adds with phrasing rather alarming coming from a former gangster: "The way they do it is not according to Jim, you know what I mean? I usually am bang, bang, bang -- I'm gone."

Lucas, who lives with his wife and youngest son in Newark, New Jersey, says that the experience couldn't help but rekindle his memories. "You're back in the saaame thing," he says with a laugh. "The girls I knew, some of them came up claiming they got kids by me. Since I started making the movie, I got 10 more sons."

But Lucas says he's repentant. Aside from any murders he himself committed or had carried out, the strength of Lucas's potent heroin killed many young users. "I regret it very much so," he says. "I did some terrible things. I'm awfully sorry that I did them. I really am."

Many of those who lived through the events depicted in "American Gangster" worry the film could glamorize Lucas' drug-dealing days.

Pileggi, also an executive producer on the film, says he hopes "American Gangster" above all makes clear "that you're going to get caught, even if you're as clever and try to be as laid-back as (Lucas)."

"He can never redeem what he did, he can never bring those kids back or clean up the schoolyards, but there is rebirth or redemption in realizing what you did was bad," says Pileggi.
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Lucas now touts a charity founded by his daughter, Francine Lucas-Sinclair, that seeks to raise money for the children of incarcerated parents (http://yellowbrickroads.org).

"I always keep my eye on the prize," says Lucas. "The film, in three or four months, it'll be gone -- but I'll still be here. And I gotta keep the fire burning.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

American Gangster Myth: What's the Real Story Behind Hollywood's Portrayal of Harlem Drug Kingpin Frank Lucas?

American Gangster, considered one of the hottest, blockbuster movies of the year, opened in theaters worldwide on November 2. It is no doubt currently the most talked about gangster movie in America.

Highly anticipated, American Gangster chronicles the true story of 1970s Harlem drug kingpin Frank "Superfly" Lucas (played by Oscar academy winner Denzel Washington) - who built a multi-million dollar enterprise trafficking drugs in the coffins of Vietnam soldiers - and a police detective, Richie Roberts (played by Russell Crowe) whose bulldog tenacity is to bring down the fearless drug lord.

Now that millions of viewers have watched the true-life movie based on "Superfly" Lucas, and the numerous interviews he has given to National newsmedia to promote the movie, controversy is on the horizon.

Critics have uncovered evidence that Lucas' alleged true-life story, as portrayed on the silver screen, is based on falsehoods and blatant lies.

Matter of fact, Lucas' true-life criminal history as adapted for the movie is filled with so many falsehoods it's a herculean task determining where they began and end.

"Frank Lucas, the dope-dealer, portrayed by Denzel Washington in the upcoming movie is a low-down good for nothing liar," says Mayme Johnson, wife of Bumpy Johnson, a former Harlem gangster who Lucas calls his mentor and confidant.

According to law enforcement authorities, crime historians, former drug barons and gangsters, including a new book written by Ron Chepesiuk and Anthony Gonzalez Superfly: The True, Untold Story Of Frank Lucas, American Gangster www.franklucasamericangangster.com

The movie is based on countless misleading and deceptive stories cooked up by Lucas to claim the fame he really doesn't deserve.

Author Ron Chepesiuk, who has just released the first true account of Lucas life in "The Untold story of Frank Lucas" tells TNC Journalist Clarence Walker that "Hollywood gets away with a lot when it comes to gangster flicks because it uses the disclaimer "based on a true story".

"But the fact is many aspects of Lucas' story are suspect; the movie complicates the distortions and falsehoods by fictionalizing many of Lucas' claims to fame. Then you have a mega star like Denzel Washington playing Lucas and it becomes quite a challenge for a true crime writer to set history right."

A research of Lucas' stories, related by him to various reporters over the years, particularly descriptions of events featured in the New York Magazine in 2000 (American Gangster was based on this article) and the events he recalls about his life as a drug lord and murderer that captivated Hollywood, and now proves untrue, are the following:

(1) He only ratted on DEA agents and police officers. Sometimes he denies testifying against anyone. Contrary to Lucas', story he only gave up police officers. There are numerous newspaper articles indicating he "rolled over" on at least a hundred drug dealers (no mention of any cops charged or convicted).

Chepesiuk responds, "What cops did Lucas turn in?" Contrary to what's in the movie, no DEA agent was ever turned in by Lucas. In fact, it was the DEA, not Richie Roberts, who played the biggest role in bringing down Lucas."

"Roberts," he further explains, "was a minor figure in the Lucas investigation; the idea that Roberts was the the key official in bringing Lucas down is Hollywood's imagination." Chepesiuk should know because he interviewed former DEA agents who nabbed the drug lord.

"Further to say," Chepesiuk added, "Lucas turned in only corrupt cops is an effort by Tinsel Town to soften Lucas's image as a snitch. Deep down, nobody really likes or respect a snitch; he was not a snitch out of any altrustic motive."

"He did it to save his skin, facing 70 years in prison".

(2) Lucas' claim that his cousin was hung and shot to death by KKK for looking at a white woman has not been verified by this author or other sources who researched the event.

An exhaustive research by author Chepesiuk also failed to turn up evidence that the alleged event happened when Lucas was six, in 1936, and living in North Carolina.

(3) Gangster Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson died in Lucas' arms. In the American Gangster movie a scene shows Denzel Washington affectionately holding actor Clarence Williams (portrayed as Bumpy) as he is dying from a heart attack.

Chepesiuk responds, "As stated in my book, there was no record of Lucas being present when Bumpy died in Wells restaurant. Press reports of Bumpy's death in July 1968 do not mention Lucas' name. I talked to some old DEA agents who knew Bumpy well. They could not recall Frank Lucas, let alone him ever being at Bumpy's side when he died or acted as his right hand man."

Chepesiuk posed this question: "Why has Lucas made a big deal of his relationship with Bumpy? It establishes lineage. If Lucas can claim Bumpy died in his arms and get the the public to believe he was Bumpy's right hand man, then he can make a claim he inherited Bumpy's mantel of being the Godfather of Harlem, which is something to boast about."

Bumpy's wife backs up Chepesiuk's investigation.

When Mayme Johnson, the 93-year-old wife of Bumpy Johnson, read the New York Magazine story of Lucas' claim he was Bumpy's right-hand man and that Bumpy died in his arms, the widow became infuriated.

"Lucas lied!"

"Now I understand," she said "there's a movie coming out starring Denzel Washington called "American Gangster" which tells the life of Frank Lucas and the movie will perpetrate that lie."

Johnson characterized Lucas' relationship with her husband this way: "Frank Lucas was little more than a flunky to Bumpy; a flunky he never fully trusted. Frank, Bumpy said, was a liar, and it's easier to trust a thief than a liar."

"Now why would Frank tell such a lie about being with Bumpy when he died?"

Mayme answered her own question.

"Because he figured since Junie Byrd, Nat Pettigre, Finkley Hoskins and Sonny Chance - all of whom were there when Bumpy died are also dead; there's no one alive to reveal the fact that he's lying."

To set the record straight and expose the lies about her husband, shown in American Gangster, by Lucas, and other falsehoods, Mrs. Johnson has co-authored a book scheduled for publication with Karen E. Quinones titled Harlem Godfather: The Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth Bumpy Johnson.

Johnson is on record with the media, saying she "thinks it's a shame Lucas was able to fool Hollywood into believing that he's a bigger shot than he really is."

She points out that if Lucas lied about his relationship with Bumpy "there's no telling what else he lied about thats portrayed in the movie."

"Everything in the movie is now suspect."

Informant Role: Why Lucas denied being a 'snitch'?

Lucas' legendary story about only ratting on cops reeks of hypocrisy and is in truth, a blatant lie. Apparently the aging gangster expects people to believe if he only gave up cops this makes him less of a snitch. Doesn't Lucas realize that even if his story were true, and he gave up nothing but cops, a rat is still in fact, a rat?

In effect, Frank Lucas is one of the biggest drug dealing turncoats to play the game in the black underworld of organized crime.


Federal court records archives, an interview with Ron Chepesiuk, who penned the newly released book about Lucas' life, and extensive research of New York broadsheets, reveal irrefutable evidence that Lucas turned on a veritable cornucopia of multi-echelon drug dealers.

U.S. Attorney John Martin Jr. made this glowing statement, "By his cooperation, he placed his life in jeopardy."

"The cooperation of individuals such as Lucas is vital to the government's effort to combat narcotics traffic."

In a recent interview (October 25th 2007) with New York Magazine reporter Mark Jacobson, a 77-year-old wheelchair bound Lucas responds to Jacobson after being asked "Frank, I'm saying you can do all kinds of crimes, but a lot of people feel if you snitch, that's worse. What you think about that?"

Lucas snaps, "I never in my life, not to this day, testified on nobody. Ain't no sonofabitch in the world ever got put in on account of me."

To justify his helping of authorities to nab police officers, he explains "Bad cops, yes. But rat shit - no, no, no."

During the interview with Lucas and former heroin dealer Nicky "Mr. Untouchable" Barnes, Barnes admitted to reporter Jacobson that he himself had informed against other gangsters.

When Jacobson asked Lucas, "Do you think there's a time when it's good to cooperate?" Lucas responds, voice rising, "I told you before. I never testified on nobody!"

Jacobson tried another angle. "Some cases were made Frank."

"Look," Lucas yelled, "I have remorse about what I did."

The exchange, with Lucas' denials and then acknowledgment of his cooperation, makes the former gangster into a clear embroiderer of the truth, who apparently thinks a sensible person cannot see through his none too subtle charade of smoke and mirrors.

In a New York Times article dated August 25th 1984, the headline reads: U.S. Jury Convicts Heroin Informant.

The brief Times article mentions the fact that when Lucas was sentenced to a total of 70 years in prison, in 1976, on federal and state drug trafficking charges, he began cooperating with authorities and this led the following year to convictions of more than 100 narcotics dealers.

In reference to Lucas' role as an informant, the Times article further reads that in 1981 Lucas 40 year federal term and 30 year state term were reduced to time served, plus lifetime parole

Lucas' role as an informant was valuable enough to earn him a nice haven in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

His Puerto Rican wife Julie, daughter Francine and a son were also placed in the witness protection program in 1977 after Lucas helped the law to convict other drug dealers.

While conducting research about Lucas' crime career, the author of this story watched American Gangster from start to finish to see if the movie script rehashed the same details now in dispute - given by Lucas to the New York Magazine reporter.

In the movie, one memorable scene has actor Denzel Washington singlehandedly negotiating a large heroin deal, worth millions, with a major Asian drug dealer who questions Washington about who he worked for in the U.S. Washington responds, "I work for nobody but myself."

News media stories, including the New York magazine profile of Lucas, credited the former gangster with eliminating the middleman (the Italian Mafia) from the heroin distribution in Harlem.

Steven Zaillian, the chief scriptwriter, told the New York Times: "It wasn't the idea of doing a dope story so much as: What happens when a black businessman takes over an industry? Frank became bigger than the Mafia and took over their business in a way that made it difficult for him to stay in business."

Somehow, Zaillian omits major drug players like Nicky Barnes, Frank Matthews, Rob Stepheny, Leon Aiken, Leroy Butler and the superior Harlem Godfather Bumpy Johnson. Bumpy is the man who gave Lucas the dope game; the gangster who Lucas idolized to such an extent that he has lied for years in his attempts to convince people Bumpy died in his arms.

Furthermore, apparently Zaillian either hadn't heard about, or chose to ignore, the history regarding the Mob's control of the heroin trade throughout Harlem and other parts of New York, beginning in the 1920s.

If truth be told, Lucas alone could not have dominated the heroin trade in New York. Besides, the Mob and other key players were very deep in the game.

Evidence of blacks' involvement within organized crime shows that Bumpy Johnson was the first of few original black gangsters. During the 1940s to 1960s which covered some of Lucas' era in the drug trade, Bumpy was the middleman between the black underworld and the Italian mob.

The mob respected and trusted Bumpy. If a player wanted to do business in Harlem, sell drugs, run rackets, bootleg liquor, front stolen goods, whatever illicit hustle one wanted to operate, you paid Bumpy or you died.

Everyone paid except Mom and Pop stores. Therefore, "Superfly" Lucas was no exception.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics issued a report in the 1950s indicating that La Cosa Nostra had been smuggling heroin into the U.S. for several years through a network called the French Connection.

A 1986 federal organized crime report stated, "During the French Connection era from the 1950s-1970s the La Cosa Nostra controlled approximately 95 percent of heroin entering the U.S."

Assuming the government is correct, how could Lucas dominate the majority of heroin in the Big Apple?

Also, Lucas has often repeated a self-serving mistruth that he broke the Mafia's grip on the importation of heroin into Harlem.

The only drug player credited for attempting to make this happen was Frank Matthews. In 1972 Matthews held the biggest drug dealing summit, in Atlanta, Georgia, to discuss innovative ways to break mob control on heroin so that blacks could cut the mob services from the middle to earn more profit.

Who Mastered the Asian Heroin Connection?

Here is a million dollar question: Which American player among players in the drug trade created the Asian heroin connection into the U.S.?

In Chepesiuk's book, Frank Lucas' claim that he alone discovered the Asian connection (a from the movie) Chepesiuk's investigation, utilizing credible documented sources, identifies drug lord Leslie Ike Atkinson, nicknamed "Sergeant Smack" by the DEA as the first known dealer from America to establish the Asian-U.S. heroin connection.

Lucas' story, featured in the New York magazine in 2000 attests to the fact that Atkinson was the guy who turned him on to the Asian drug trade. He told reporter Mark Jacobson: "Ike knew everyone over there, every black guy in the army, from the cooks on up."

After Lucas partnered up with Ike to transport heroin into the U.S., Jacobson's story characterized Lucas' drug ring as "this 'army inside an army' that served the Country Boys international distribution of heroin shipments on U.S. military planes."

Drugs and Dead Men

Another claim by Lucas, that his associates used the false bottoms of coffins containing the bodies of U.S. soldiers to transport heroin into the U.S., has been contradicted not only by Ike Atkinson but also the Federal government, who nailed Lucas and his drug workers.

New York newspapers recounted at the time when the feds busted Lucas' drug ring in 1975, that federal prosecutors said the operation had used an Asian connection to move the heroin from the Golden Triangle of Burma, Laos and Thailand to Bangkok, and then smuggled the drugs to military bases in North Carolina where the heroin was distributed to markets throughout the U.S.

Lucas' lurid stories of hauling drugs on the plane of then U.S. secretary Henry Kissinger, and concealing drugs among the dead might be true but there are no news articles or government investigation reports that any of his shipments of heroin were found in the coffin of deceased U.S. soldiers.

DEA investigators had heard the rumor about the Atkinson-Lucas coffin connection to transport heroin into the U.S., but no officials confirmed the rumor, even after DEA investigators once searched the coffins on a plane containing dead soldiers bound for the U.S.

During this highly sensitive search no drugs were found.

Today, Ike Atkinson denies that drugs were ever shipped in coffins, and where this story came from, we may never know.

Why Do Gangsters, Outlaws, and Drug Lords Fascinate Us?

Former heroin dealer and self-proclaimed murderer, Frank Lucas, the prime character in the movie American Gangster might someday join a cast of glorified outlaws hailed as anti-heroes, who Americans, for decades, have embraced in their hearts.

The film has already wowed many observers and critics, stirring up the atmosphere of an Oscar to crown the best talent on the screen and behind the scene.

Unlike the Western-style outlaws who focus on the "good guy" whose mission it is to destroy the roots of evil, a gangster movie spotlights the "bad guy", the anti-hero whose passion yearns for power and position.

Against the backdrop of the 1960s civil rights era, American Gangster takes its place among the pantheon of classic gangster movies - the black Scarface or the Harlem Godfather - the kind of exciting movie destined to become a part of American culture.

"Gangsterism is capitalism run rampart," says Jon McCarty, author of the gangster movie history Bullets over Hollywood (published by Da Capo Press).

"It's that old entrepreneurial spirit."

In American Gangster, director Ridley Scott points out that gangsters "are the guys who dare to do the things we'd love to do, but don't. There's this vicarious fascination that gangsters lead an exciting and threatening existence."

"Criminal lives are larger than normal lives because they are acting out life on this grand scale, as celebrities do," says director Marc Levin, who made the Nicky Barnes documentary Mr. Touchable

Levin adds a cultural philosophy: "Every group, it seems, has criminals who enjoy a flashy lifestyle, while others present a sober, businesslike face. For every fashionably tailored Frank Lucas, there's a flamboyant Superfly. For every limelight-loving John Gotti, there's a suburban Tony Soprano."

Irrespective of the ongoing controversy threatening to reveal a trail of falsehoods about the criminal exploits of Frank Lucas, we must not forget America's love affair with gangster movies, which seems to always seduce our desires with an offer we can't refuse.

It doesn't really matter if Hollywood blends fiction with fact, as long as the drama captivates and entertains.

American Gangster works because we admire the wonderful role Washinton plays as drug lord Lucas, a family man with millions made from the drug trade, and we respect and admire cop Richie Roberts, played superbly by Russell Crowe - an honest crime fighter who finally brings the gangster down.

Its unlikely that the outlaw career of "Superfly" Lucas will earn the superior status of Al Capone, Jesse James, Bonnie & Clyde, and John "The Teflon Don" Gotti, but one thing is for sure; if Hollywood has the ability to make people into real-life heroes then Frank Lucas is indeed, an American Gangster legend.

Thanks to Clarence Walker, Investigative Reporter and New Criminologist Journalist, Houston Texas. Any comments: Contact Journalist Clarence Walker at mafia101@myway.com.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Denzel Scores Knockout with American Gangster

The gangster is an outsider. The gangster takes all that "Land of Opportunity" stuff and shoves it in his pocket.

"The gangster is the 'no' to the great American 'yes' which is stamped so big over our official culture," wrote the critic Robert Warshow. But, as we know, gangster movies never end happily. Right?

Set in the late 1960s and early '70s, Ridley Scott's star-driven "American Gangster" positions Harlem's notorious drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) as an entrepreneurial self-starter in the black economy. A country boy from the South, he studies status and power at the elbow of Bumpy Johnson (Clarence Williams III), an old-school inner-city crime lord who hands out turkeys on Thanksgiving.

In the film's brisk, info-loaded first act, we see how this watchful, attentive henchman puts his learning into effect to step into his boss' shoes. When he needs to underline the new order, he does so promptly and with the minimum of fuss: He shoots his loudest rival in the head right out in the middle of the street.

Then he goes back and finishes his lunch.

Even so, it's not the ruthlessness that distinguishes Lucas from every other Scarface on the block. It's his business smarts. Boys are coming back from Vietnam high on the local smack. Frank is first to realize the business potential this untapped supply represents. By eliminating the middleman, he's able to undercut the competition by 200 percent, and with a superior product. In any other field, he'd be gracing the cover of Forbes. In the drug business, it's safer to stay under the radar.

While Frank Lucas is living the American Dream -- he marries a beauty queen and brings his momma (Ruby Dee) and his brothers over to share his suburban mansion -- Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is studying law. His wife wants nothing more to do with him, and he's a pariah on the force after handing in a million dollars in unmarked bills. Who could trust a guy like that? Invited to set up a special drug unit with men of his own choosing, Roberts has to engage in some social anthropology of his own.

A heavyweight by design, "American Gangster" clocks in at 2 ½ hours and packs a solid wallop. Whether it can live up to sky-high expectations is another matter. Even Ridley Scott has found himself name-checking "The Godfather" and "The French Connection"; they're both pertinent comparisons up to a point, but suggestive of fireworks that don't quite ignite here.

I was reminded more of zealous New York thrillers by Sidney Lumet -- films like "Prince of the City" and "Serpico" -- not just because Richie Roberts might have been the model for those straight-arrow, squeaky-wheel cops, but because Steven Zaillian's screenplay doggedly puts the focus on process and ethics, not action and adrenaline. (Josh Brolin, as a venally corrupt NYPD detective, and Armand Assante as a mafia don could easily be Lumet characters: They're larger than life but aggressively true to it.)

To an extent, long-form TV series like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire" have raised the bar by exploring this kind of material in the depth a mere movie can only hint at, and "American Gangster" bites off more than it chews. But a movie has its own dynamic; there's something irresistible about the way Zaillian's parallel narratives gradually converge, the black-and-white mirror images of the dedicated cop and the consummate operator drawing ever nearer.

Russell Crowe brings his own considerable scowling integrity to Roberts, but in a gangster movie, it's the bad guy you come to see -- and here Denzel kills.

Whether it's fastidiously demonstrating the correct way to remove bloodstains from an alpaca rug ("Don't rub. Blot") or patiently explaining the concept of trademark infringement to a rival dealer (Cuba Gooding Jr. as flamboyant Nicky Barnes), every move he makes speaks to an essentially African-American pride and passion, the contained fury of an invisible man striving to get out from under.
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The movie may triumph on points, but Washington scores a knockout.

Thanks to Tom Charity

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Friday, November 02, 2007

American Gangster in the Crosswalk

Two great actors and a great director have teamed up for the not-so-great American Gangster, yet another look at one man’s rise to power and his struggle to maintain hold of that power as the law moves in. Aiming for the status of an epic, American Gangster has to settle for being merely passable, if not particularly excellent in any way. All of the principals involved here—Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott—have delivered more compelling, urgent films in the past, significantly lowering the “must see” quotient for this high-powered, but sometimes plodding, drama.
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Washington is Frank Lucas, a Harlem drug lord in the early 1970s who obtains heroin directly from Asia, cutting out the middle man and selling a purer form of the drug directly to customers. His entrepreneurial spirit turns him into a legend equal to any Italian mafia Don. With the help of some in the U.S. military, his product is shipped (along with dead American soldiers) back to the states.

Frank shares his wealth with his family, putting his siblings on the payroll and buying his mother (Ruby Dee) a mansion. He asserts his power by publicly killing his rivals, with no fear that he’ll be turned in by admiring neighbors.

As played by Washington, Lucas is a smooth criminal, always in command of his business but never flashy enough to attract attention from the police. His fatal mistake comes when he wears an opulent fur coat to a boxing match, where police officer Richie Roberts (Crowe) notices him among other lowlifes in the audience. Roberts—a clean cop amid the on-the-take drug enforcement officers in New York—doesn’t have many friends on the force. His marriage has failed, and his current relationships are purely sexual.

The two men are a study in contrasts. Frank attends church with his mother and says grace in the name of Jesus, but he’s a ruthless killer. Roberts’ personal life is full of failures, but his commitment to justice trumps the temptations to which so many of his fellow officers succumb.

The film cuts between the two characters until they finally meet. Their discussion, across a table from one another, is well played—one of the few memorable scenes in a film that should have had more. Surprisingly, the actor who makes the strongest impression in the film is Josh Brolin, a sleazy detective who complicates Roberts’ investigation and exemplifies the dirty-cop culture of the time.

American Gangster doesn’t add much to the long parade of gangster films already available. Centering on an African-American protagonist, the film doesn’t directly address race relations, but at its most provocative it suggests Lucas’ actions had a cost that was far less significant for the country than were those of the Vietnam War and America’s war on drugs—the backdrop against which American Gangster takes place. However, Scott and screenwriter Steven Zallian know what the audience is most interested in—sudden, shocking violence—and they feed it to the audience with just enough frequency to sate bloodthirsty viewers. Discount Poster Prices! - 30% off custom framing, 20% off everything else

Those who have tired of violent stories peppered with harsh language will find the film unsavory. Those who still crave such thrills may be satisfied by American Gangster, but even fans of the genre will have seen better entries than this. Well acted but too long, this American crime saga is simply overkill. It takes more than two-and-a-half hours of our time, and offers too little in return.

Thanks to Christian Hamaker

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