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The Real Story Behind American Gangster



American Gangster was one of the most popular films when it came out in November of 2007. With an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Russell Crow, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Josh Brolin, under the direction of Ridley Scott, the film was met with mostly positive reviews and is still remembered by many viewers. In fact, many still love the film and some consider it one of their favorite films of all time. However, some have taken aim at the film’s accuracy. The basic structure of the story is indeed true. Frank Lucas was a huge drug kingpin in New York City and it was Detective Richie Roberts who eventually brought him down. Their relationship throughout the film is paramount and one of the most realistic things about the movie.

Lucas was bringing in heroin into New York City in the coffins of deceased US soldiers coming back from Vietnam. However, a narcotics prosecutor responsible for putting Lucas in prison, Federal Judge Sterling Johnson Jr., stated that was not the case. “Everybody always thought the caskets (carried heroin) —- even I thought it,” Johnson Jr. said. “The picture is 1 percent reality and 99 percent Hollywood fiction. Frank was illiterate, Frank was vicious, violent. Frank was everything Denzel Washington was not.” Others, including a freelance supplier for Lucas, Leslie ‘Ike’ Atkinson, said the story was not truthful.

“It is a total lie that’s fueled by Frank Lucas for personal gain,” Atkinson said. “I never had anything to do with transporting heroin in coffins or cadavers.” Despite their being mixed reports on whether or not Lucas actually used the coffins of servicemen and rather furniture instead, what Lucas did, with respect to other mob elements, was quite genius.

Lucas sought to avoid the Italian mafia that controlled much of the underworld but the entire heroin trade too. To prevent himself from crossing paths with them, he went directly to Asia’s Golden Triangle to import heroin. He went to Bangkok, Thailand very frequently, and used military help to move the narcotics into the USA. Once it was shipped to Thailand, Lucas sold the heroin under the name of “Blue Magic,” which he stated was 100 percent pure heroin. It probably led many people to need help from a drug rehab in Texas. That continues to be the essential essence of his story.

Much of who Lucas relied upon were his family members in the operation. He brought them up from where he had grown up at in North Carolina. He distrusted “city boys” as he called some New Yorkers because he thought they would steal from him and lie to him. Once he found himself in prison, due to the detective work of Roberts and his team, his sentence was reduced from 70 years to five because of informant work he did putting drug dealers behind bars. A former DEA agent, Jack Toal, verified this to be true.

“He never talked about a dirty cop or a DEA agent,” Toal stated. “He never gave up anybody like that. It was 100 percent drug dealers.” However, Lucas would have to serve another seven years once he got out because he went back into the drug dealing game again. This probably caused, even more, people to develop addictions and need assistance from a drug rehab in Texas. Something surprising happened, however. The very man who had put him away in prison, Richie Roberts, became the person who defended him in court.

Roberts had become a lawyer by this time and offered Lucas a legal defense. Roberts and Lucas began to develop a friendship, which led the detective to become the godfather of Lucas’ son, Ray, as the years went on. Lucas became a changed man when he started to work with his daughter on her business, Yellow Brick Roads. Francine, his daughter, had been sent out to Puerto Rico to live with her mother, and upon her return, she was inspired to set up this business. Its focus is on assisting those children who have incarcerated parents. Lucas not only helps with the children but he also has assisted his daughter with the business end of things. Lucas had previously said he could never work in legal business because of his experiences with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) as a child in North Carolina. Yet, it looks like he was able to make it in the world of legitimate business. He always had some legitimate businesses he ran in order to cover up his illegal dealings. Now, it seems he is making a true difference in the world.

Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery  and the entertainment industry.

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