Frank Lucas, the notorious Harlem drug trafficker portrayed by Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007), died at 88. His nephew Aldwan Lassiter confirmed his death, according to Rolling Stone. Lassiter said Lucas died of natural causes.
He started his career in drug trafficking after moving to New York from Greensboro. In New York, Lucas joined Harlem kingpin Bumpy Johnson’s drug ring.
After Bumpy died of a heart attack in 1968, Lucas took over and immediately started building the biggest heroin smuggling operation in the U.S.
Lucas is credited with founding the Golden Triangle drug trade of the ’70s. After he took over Bumpy’s Harlem operations in 1968, he organized the smuggling of heroin into the U.S. from Southeast Asia on service plans flying into the country from Vietnam carrying the coffins of fallen servicemen.
The daring arrangement was especially convenient for Lucas because it allowed him to bypass the Italian Mafia in New York that acted as middlemen in the drug trade.
Lucas claimed that, at height of his heroin smuggling operation, his organization was making about $1 million daily, which he spent on a lavish and extravagant lifestyle.
However, his lavish lifestyle drew the attention of authorities and he was eventually arrested in 1975 by a special task force led by Detective Richie Roberts. He was tried and sentenced to 70 years in prison.
But Lucas’ 70-year sentence was reduced after he helped the authorities in other drug-trade related arrests. He was released from prison in 1981 but was sentenced again 1984 to three years in prison for violating his parole through another drug deal.
Who did Lucas snitch on that led to the authorities reducing his sentence and releasing him from prison in 1981?
Who did Frank Lucas snitch on?
Although Frank Lucas denied snitching on fellow drug dealers, authorities insist that he snitched not only on crooked cops but also on fellow drug dealers — and on the mob.
According to Detective Richie Roberts, who led the team that arrested Lucas in 1975, Lucas provided the authorities with evidence that led to more than 100 other arrests and convictions related to drug dealing offenses.
According to Ron Chepesuik who wrote Superfly: The True, Untold Story of Frank Lucas, American Gangster, the movie American Gangster (2007), starring Denzel Washington, misrepresented what really happened when it suggested Lucas only turned in “dirty cops.”
“Lucas turned in only corrupt cops is an effort by Tinsel Town to soften Lucas’ image as a snitch,” Chepesuik said. “Deep down, nobody really likes or respects a snitch; he was not a snitch out of any altruistic motive. He did it to save his skin, facing 70 years in prison.”
Due to the number of high-profile drug dealers arrested and convicted based on the evidence he gave, the authorities feared for Lucas’ safety and the safety of members of his family. They placed them in witness protection in 1977.
After spending five years in custody, his 70-year prison term was reduced in 1981 and converted to parole as part of the deal he struck with the authorities in exchange for evidence. After his release from prison, Lucas was placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
“If Frank did not do what he did, talk about people that he talked about, there would have been a lot more people out there OD’ing on dope and a lot more people having their lives and families destroyed because of it,” Roberts said in a radio interview. “He should be commended for that in my opinion.”