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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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Bank executives would later plead guilty to 200 misdemeanor violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. At the height of his career, he had over $52 million in various Cayman Island banks and 1,000 kilograms of heroin on hand worth $300,000 a kilo. To "hide" the exchanged money, Lucas bought into legitimate businesses—such as a string of dry cleaners and gas stations—in the hopes of avoiding detection. He also owned office buildings in Detroit, apartments in Los Angeles, Miami, and Puerto Rico,
and a several thousand acre ranch called "Paradise Valley" in North Carolina where he had 300 head of Black Angus cattle and prize breeding bulls.
Lucas also made the rounds in New York's celebrity circuit. He would often be seen at several of the hottest nightclubs in Manhattan, hobnobbing with famous athletes like Joe Lewis and Muhammad Ali and entertainers like James Brown, Berry Gordy and Diana Ross. Lucas was slated to be in a Hollywood gangster movie entitled The Ripoff, set in the streets of New York City. He contributed nearly a $100,000 into the movie, and lent the production several of his exotic automobiles. However, the movie was never finished. He spent money freely, once buying a couple of $140,000 Van Cleef bracelets for both he and his wife, Julie. She bought him a $50,000 chinchilla coat and $10,000 hat to match. However, most times Lucas preferred to dress very casually, so as to not attract attention to himself.
Just as Frank Lucas wouldn't have been successful obtaining and transporting the heroin from southeast Asia without the support of corrupt military personnel, so too would he have been unable to sell the stuff on the streets of Harlem without dishonest cops. During the 1960s and 1970s, the New York Police Department's Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was hopelessly corrupt. It had city-wide jurisdiction and nearly unlimited authority. The unit had developed a cowboy-like mentality, breaking in and conducting warrantless searches of suspected drug dealers; creating illegal phone taps; using bribery; and controlling addicted informants with confiscated heroin. Several of the officers were "on the take" with local drug dealers to look the other way. At one point, Frank Lucas was caught by the head of the SIU, Bob Leuci, with several kilograms of heroin and cocaine in the trunk of his car. According to Lucas, he was taken to the police station, where he had to negotiate his release with an offer of $30,000 and two "keys" of heroin. This was a common practice, and made many New York police officers participants in the crimes they were supposed to be stopping.
In time, the police corruption made national news, and the Justice Department wanted it stopped. In 1971, officials in Essex County, New Jersey, formed an investigative narcotics unit called the Special Narcotics Task Force (SNTF), headed by then-assistant prosecutor Richard "Richie" Roberts. Serving as a detective in Essex County since 1963, Roberts was a former U.S. Marine and recent law school graduate from Seaton Hall University.
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