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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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Rubiwat—also known by the code name "007"—controlled several hundred acres of poppy fields in the Golden Triangle, a dense jungle area on the borders of Thailand, Burma, and Laos. Next to the poppy fields were caves bored into the mountains, where the poppies were then processed into heroin. On Lucas's first trip, he bought 132 kilos of high quality heroin for $4,200 per unit. In Harlem he would have paid $50,
000 for a kilo from the Mafia.
Lucas and Atkinson created an "army inside the Army" of draftees and enlisted men in order to set up the international distribution system. Key military personnel had to be "bought" into the system, including high-ranking officers, both American and South Vietnamese. Lucas used a combination of charm and pricy bribes to recruit his team. As he did with nearly all parts of his enterprise, Lucas would oversee the operations personally in southeast Asia, sometimes disguising himself as an Army officer.
The plan was to send shipments of heroin on military planes to military bases on the eastern seaboard. From there, the packages would be sent to accomplices who unpacked the heroin and prepared it for sale. Hyperbole suggests that much of the dope was stuffed into the coffins of dead service men, or even stuffed into the cadavers. Lucas testified that he recruited a North Carolina carpenter and flew him to Bangkok to build over two dozen government-issued coffins with false bottoms, big enough to load in 6 to 8 kilos of heroin. But it has been reported that Atkinson only packed the smuggled heroin in furniture.
In setting up his organization back in the States, Frank Lucas combined toughness with intelligence, being very careful to make sure every detail was covered. He contracted only trusted relatives and close friends from North Carolina; people like Leslie Atkinson. He believed they were less likely to steal from him and be tempted by the vices of the city. He recruited his five younger brothers, and moved them to New York. In the city, they became known as the "Country Boys," and they controlled the territory on 116th Street between 7th and 8th avenues in Harlem.
Lucas approached marketing his product like any entrepreneur by offering value for the right price. Because he was getting nearly pure heroin directly from the source, he was able to "cut" the drug at a higher level—usually between 10 and 12 percent—when most street heroin was only about 5 to 6 percent. Lucas hired several young women to mix the imported heroin with mannite and quinine. To prevent theft, these women wore nothing but plastic gloves. To protect his investment, Lucas inflicted brutal violence against anyone who stood in his way, inflicting fear in adversaries and inspiring respect from friends and business partners.
Just as Lucas had planned, the money came pouring in. He often bragged that he was making a million dollars a day. There often wasn't enough space to hide the cash, so he would launder the money, personally driving large bags of bills to a bank in the Bronx where the bankers would count it and exchange it for legitimate bills.
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