The real ‘American Gangster’ who once ruled the heroin trade in NYC dies at age 88

Ismail Akwei June 01, 2019
Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

Frank Lucas, whose story was adapted into the 2007 film American Gangster played by Denzel Washington, has died at the age of 88.

The former drug kingpin who is reported to have died on Thursday night in New Jersey has inspired many Hip Hop songs and lyrics by artists including Bankroll Fresh, Quavo, 21 Savage, Rick Ross, Gunna, Future, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Durk, Fabolous and Jay-Z who recorded the record-hitting soundtrack for the crime film American Gangster.

The real 'American Gangster' who once ruled the heroin trade in NYC dies at age 88

Born in North Carolina in 1930, Frank Lucas moved to Harlem in New York City after a life of petty crime and later grew to break the monopoly of the Italian mafia in the drug trade.

He flew to Bangkok, Thailand where he fraternized with U.S. Army sergeant Leslie “Ike” Atkinson from North Carolina who helped him smuggle heroine to the United States via caskets of dead Vietnam War soldiers.

This claim was disputed by Atkinson who told the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that the drugs were shipped in furniture and not caskets.

Lucas is reported to have said that he made US$1 million per day selling drugs on 116th Street. A claim that was later discovered to be an exaggeration.

However, Lucas was worth tens of millions of dollars kept in banks in the Cayman Islands and had dozens of properties scattered across the U.S. and huge lands in North Carolina. All of these assets and finances were confiscated in the mid 1970s when he was arrested.

He was noted to have worked with only relatives and close friends from North Carolina in the heroin trade who he trusted would not steal from him.

Lucas also mingled with the elite and famous people but kept a simple lifestyle to avoid drawing attention to himself.

The real 'American Gangster' who once ruled the heroin trade in NYC dies at age 88
Mug Shot of Frank Lucas taken January 1975 at the time of his arrest

This did not suffice in 1975 when his house was raided by DEA and police who found $584,683 in cash and was convicted of multiple state and federal drug violations. He was sentenced to 70 years in prison in 1976 but later had his sentence reduced after he provided evidence that led to more than 100 further drug-related convictions.

He was released in 1981 after five years in prison but was rearrested in 1984 for trying to exchange one ounce of heroin and $13,000 for one kilogram of cocaine. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and was released in 1991.

Lucas helped in producing his life story adaptation directed by Ridley Scott and played by Denzel Washington. The Universal Pictures film has been criticized for fabrication which Lucas admitted the film was largely untrue.

Confined in a wheelchair after an accident that broke his legs, Lucas had another brush with the law in 2012 for lying over federal disability payments. He was given probation.

He is survived by seven children, reports TMZ.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: June 2, 2019


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