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By the 1960s, gangster and drug kingpin Frank Lucas had constructed an international drug ring that spanned from New York to South East Asia.
Frank Lucas - Superfly (3:10)
After almost falling into obscurity, an article on Frank in New York Magazine prompted Universal Studios to buy the rights to make the film "American gangster."
As Frank Lucas' drug trade grew he began to expand his look and personal wealth, dubbing himself Superfly after the 1970's blacksploitation film of the same name.
While trying to expand his supply of heroin beyond the Italian mafia, Frank Lucas set his sights on a drug supply out of Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam War.
As Frank began to live the life of a criminal, his foray into the drug trade also began to grow. Soon he would find himself in a position to become one of Harlem's most notorious drug dealers.
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There is some disagreement over how close Lucas was to Johnson. Lucas claims Johnson took him under his wing, and eventually became Bumpy's "right-hand-man." Others close to Johnson, including his widow, Mayme, testify that Johnson distrusted Lucas and never made him more than a flunky. What is true is that Frank Lucas learned well from Johnson, but took his teachings to a whole new level, developing one of the most lucrative crime organizations of the 20th century. Johnson died in 1968,
leaving the control of Harlem up for grabs. Lucas took the opportunity to seize as much territory as he could.
Frank Lucas wanted to be rich—what he called "Donald Trump rich." He not only believed he could make it big in the drug world, he understood how to do it. He started with the planning. He called it "backtracking." He would hole himself up in a hotel room, away from any distractions, for a month or two at a time. He would look back on all his past experiences and what he'd learned. Then he'd look forward to the future including every possible detail and the detail of the details, making sure he mentally walked through every step of the operation.
Frank Lucas realized that to take over Johnson's operation he needed to break the monopoly of the Italian Mafia. His idea was to bypass the Mafia's heroin trade in Harlem, and go directly to the source of the drug. By 1968, the Vietnam War had been raging for several years. It was common knowledge that U.S service personnel had been exposed to many different illegal drugs, including heroin. When they came back to the States with their addictions, they sought out new sources. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, dope was rampant in most large American cities, with "brand names" like "Mean Machine," "Can't Get Enough of that Funky Stuff," and "Harlem Hijack." Lucas knew he could meet this demand and make a hefty profit if he could get the drugs directly from the source. He decided to travel to southeast Asia.
Frank Lucas had what is called an "expectation of invincibility." He really thought nothing of getting on a plane by himself and traveling half way around the world to Thailand. He knew little about the country, and didn't speak the language. Yet, he was engaging in one of the most deadly occupations imaginable—international drug trafficking. On his arrival in Bangkok in 1968, Lucas checked into the Dusit Thani Hotel. There he met Leslie "Ike" Atkinson at Jack's American Bar, a rest and relaxation hangout for African-American soldiers. Atkinson ran the bar and was well connected with many U.S. Army soldiers in southeast Asia, often supplying them with drugs on demand. Atkinson also hailed from Greensboro, North Carolina, and had married one of Lucas' cousins. Thus, Lucas initiated the policy of only hiring relatives or close friends.
Atkinson agreed to supply Lucas with the heroin, but Lucas wanted to see the operations for himself. The two men traveled for nearly two weeks through the jungles of Thailand until they located Atkinson's main connection and business partner, a Chinese-Thai gentleman named Luetchi Rubiwat.
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