Frank Lucas grew up poor, in La Grange North Carolina and decided to move to Harlem which was then considered to be the “promise land.” Once in Harlem, Lucas decided to earn a living the only way he knew how - by doing something illegal. By the 1960s Lucas became one of the biggest gangsters in America, selling heroin and running Harlem.
It wasn’t just ruthlessness that Lucas relied on; what made him so exponentially successful was his key sense of business. This he applied in his heroin dealing by completely removing the middle man from the picture. He believed that there was no reason for him to involve the Mafia in his business when he could himself fly over to Southeast Asia and “score the dope” himself.
His ingenuity and no-nonsense way of dealing with his associates - and of course the number of police officials from the corrupt NYPD that he had in his payroll - all contributed to him running a successful drug racket for several years until he was busted by one good cop - Richie Roberts and had to serve time in jail.
Known for his flamboyant style, innovative business sense and for having single-handedly brought down Harlem to its despicable conditions in the 1970s, Frank Lucas is one of America’s baddest gangsters of all time.
Yes, it’s absolutely true that Frank Lucas did not allow the women that cut his dope for him to wear clothes. The women he hired were only allowed to wear a small surgical mask to cover their faces to keep the dust out of their face. They had to leave the masks in the cutting room. The reason why he had this rule was so that they could not possibly steal any of his dope. People would try to work for him in order to get free stuff or steal from him so he made sure that this wasn’t even an option.
Many people believe that Frank Lucas’ brand of drug, Blue Magic, was 100% pure or close to that amount at least. However, this is probably mostly a result of the movie American Gangster where he claims that his brand of dope was 100% pure heroin. This is not possible and definitely not backed up. The truth of the matter is that the product was shipped in as being 98% and then Lucas and his workers would cut it with 40% quinine and 60% mannite. This somehow resulted in Blue Magic being only at about 10% purity. He even had to cut down on that amount due to it being dangerous and he wanted to keep his customers alive.
It doesn’t get much crazier than shooting someone in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded city sidewalk. Supposedly Frank Lucas did just that and he claimed that it was part of his initiation to taking over the streets. It wasn’t a drug gang initiation or anything, he just pointed out that this guy was very dangerous and people feared him, so when Lucas got away with killing him, he got a lot of fear and respect himself. The guy he killed was called Tango and he was a large bald-headed gangster who owed Lucas some money and wouldn’t pay it. Lucas has since withdrawn his statements on this matter and denies the murder took place at all.
Frank Lucas was known to be very serious about his business and would disappear on a retreat to strategize and brainstorm business ideas and plans. He considered Puerto Rico an easy place to go hide out and make plans and recuperate. On one of the many trips like this that he took to Puerto Rico, he met his wife Julie Lucas, who was then Julie Farrait. Some people have speculated that she was a beauty pageant queen or even possibly Miss Puerto Rico, but there is no evidence of that. Frank has only said that she was “some kind of homecoming queen” so he does not even claim that.
Frank Lucas’ relatives were mainly from a rural area and were not wealthy in the least bit. He recruited his five younger brothers to work for him as well as other family members such as cousins. If they agreed to help him, he would assist them in moving to the city near him from where they originated in the boonies of North Carolina. This was a strategy he used because he did not trust “city boys”- he claimed the city boys would steal the last of what you had and lie to your face about it while country boys would only touch your things if they had permission, even if their families were hungry.
Many are unsure what they believe about Frank Lucas’ stories about going to Southeast Asia and getting in on a deal with the Golden Triangle to source his drug trade. However, the story has been confirmed that Lucas did in fact travel all the way to various parts of Asia in order to source the supply of poppies that would make the heroin that he was famous for selling. He recounts as well that he met with a man there that called himself 007. The Golden Triangle is an area where Laos, Burma and Thailand meet and it is an area mainly used to grow poppies.
In an interview for a documentary about himself, the gangster Nicky Barnes claimed that despite popular belief, Frank Lucas was actually not that cautious to stay out of the lime light. Barnes claims that Lucas was actually more flamboyant than he was. After hearing about this interview, Lucas shot back at Barnes by denying his claim and saying that Nicky really was a very flamboyant guy. Lucas ousted Barnes by recalling that Barnes was the one who would jump out of his car to go beat up junkies and that he had boasted about being “Mr. Untouchable” on the front of the New York Times Magazine.
Much of his life, Frank Lucas was known for keeping his work very quiet and attempted not to attract attention. In the film American Gangster, it depicts him getting a chinchilla coat for his wife as a gift and symbolizes the night he wore it as the night he got cocky and triggered unwanted attention from law enforcement that ended his career. The cop Richie Roberts says that it wasn’t the coat itself that got Lucas noticed because they were watching him for a while. He did however state that it may have motivated the law enforcement to act since it was a blatant show of money and the night he wore the coat, he was sitting closer to the ring than the known Italian mafia.
Not many of the actually facts are known about Frank Lucas but in the movie American Gangster his character claims to have been Bumpy’s driver for 15 years. Bumpy’s widow, Mayme Johnson, rejects this claim by the popular Hollywood movie and states that nobody drove Bumpy for that long. In fact, she added that it is possibly true that Lucas may have driven Bumpy a few times but definitely not that long. A journalist for the Philadelphia Daily News backed up Mayme’s story by proving that Bumpy was not even out of jail for that long and the longest time he was out before he died was 5 years.
When asked about his friend and colleague, Ellsworth Johnson (Bumpy), Frank Lucas recounts that they were sitting at a restaurant – Wells Restaurant - having dinner when Bumpy began to shake out of control. He said that Bumpy shook for a little while then just fell over and died. However, Mayme Johnson (Bumpy’s widow), tells the story differently and gets indignant when people assume Frank was with Bumpy. She stated that Bumpy was in fact at Wells Restaurant when he died of a heart attack but he had actually died in the arms of his friend Junie Byrd who was a childhood friend of his.
When Lucas’ business finally got busted due to a police raid, he was held on charges that would lead him to spend nearly seventy years in prison. This is when he strategically decided to turn into an informant for the police in the hopes of getting his sentence reduced. He gave up the names of people from the Italian Mafia, he exposed corrupt police officials from the NYPD as well as others who were involved in a similar shady business practices. Being an informant had its rewards and he was able to get his sentence reduced from seventy to only fifteen years.
Not everything Frank Lucas touched was illegal. In fact, his business skills were used for much more than just what he’s famous for. It is true that Lucas invested in some legitimate businesses, but this was not done because he wanted to make inroads into clean businesses. It was more so that he could mask all the money he was making from his heroin distribution. He bought a dry cleaning business, some gas stations and invested in some office buildings and even a ranch spread across several thousand acres of land, where he bred bulls. This was all a part of his master cover up and a big reason why he slipped through the fingers of the law for so long.
Richie Roberts was the “good cop” on the NYPD force who was not in Lucas’ pocket during the height of his business. It was largely through the efforts of Roberts and a team of other good cops that Lucas was brought into custody and sent to prison. The relationship between Roberts and Lucas had always been one of adversaries. This was till Lucas was charged a second time after his first release from prison. Roberts was an attorney by now and proposed to represent him. This led to them developing a deep friendship over the years, so much so that Roberts is also a Godfather to Lucas’ son Ray.
Yes, there’s a soft side to the infamous outlaw gangster. After having been released from prison, Frank Lucas now leads a life of displaying compassion and support towards children. This was a result of an organization that has been set up by his daughter Francine. She was apparently inspired after her return from Puerto Rico, where she was sent to live with her mother’s family, to set up YellowBrickRoads.Org which is dedicated to support and advise children whose parents have been incarcerated. Lucas is known to lend his time and business savvy to work with Francine to keep the organization running, and show his support for the cause.
It is known that at the height of his criminal career, Lucas and his gang were raking in at least $1 million every day. This mostly came from selling heroin on 116th Street in New York and most of that money which he made and saved got deposited in a bank account in the Cayman Islands. The largest sum of saved money that he seems to have had in such a bank account was around $52 million. Over and above that, he also had a stash of 1000 keys of heroin which he could sell at any time for three hundred thousand dollars for every kilo.
Lucas has claimed that it was an incident that he had witnessed as a boy of six, which was perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan that eventually led him to decide to turn to a life of crime. He has stated that he was six years old in his home town La Grange in North Carolina, when a group of Ku Klux Klan members shot his twelve-year-old cousin in the mouth. They tied him to a tree and killed him on the grounds that he had looked at a white girl sometime earlier. This is supposedly the moment when Lucas decided that the only way he could survive was through illegal means and there was no need for him to remain on the good side of the law.
No this was not for a party, Lucas has admitted that he used to dress up as a Lieutenant Colonel when he would travel to Vietnam or other South East Asian countries. This was done so that he could easily blend in with the crowd since this was during the Vietnam war, and it would be more probable to come across an American army official than an American civilian in plain clothes. Lucas clearly had to improvise and use new techniques for his business to be successful since he did not want to reply on the middleman to supply heroin to him which he could himself gather through personal visits.
Lucas himself has admitted that he and his men had devised a plan for smuggling in heroin from Vietnam without being detected - this they did by transporting the Heroin in the coffins of dead servicemen. Apparently he even flew over a carpenter who he had commissioned from North Carolina, who built dozens of coffins especially for this purpose - ones with fake bottoms into which the Heroin could be stuffed. Lucas believed that nobody would bother to inspect inside a “dead soldier’s coffin.” Apart from using these coffins, there is also speculation that he might have used other furniture that was being transported from Vietnam to smuggle the heroin into the country.
No, contrary to some beliefs, Denzel Washington isn’t related to Frank Lucas, but he played Lucas in the 2007 film American Gangster. Although the film is considered to be fictionalized to a large extent to make Lucas’ life more interesting, the key points of the film are entirely based on facts. The film was nominated for several awards including two Academy Awards. The film, although praised by critics, did not go entirely without any criticism. The production house for the film was sued by two DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agents who believed that the film portrayed the department in a negative way.