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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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He was very street-smart, and was known as a cop who did what he had to do to get the job done. Unlike some of his counterparts in the New York Police Department, Roberts was incorruptible.
On January 28, 1975, after a lengthy investigation by the SNTF, a DEA strike-force staged a surprise raid on Frank Lucas' house in the upscale neighborhood of Teaneck, New Jersey. In the panic, Lucas' wife, Julie, threw several suitcases stuffed with cash out the window. All total, $584,
000 was recovered—what Lucas referred to as "street money." Also found were keys to several Cayman Island safe-deposit boxes, property deeds, and a ticket to a United Nations ball, compliments of the ambassador of Honduras. In short order, 10 individuals were arrested, but none of them was Frank Lucas. As yet, there was no direct evidence tying Lucas to the drug operation.
Then came a break. During the interrogation of suspects, Lucas' nephew—one of the Country Boys—broke. He named names, showed investigators where buys were made, and identified public pay phones used to make drug deals. Assistant prosecutor Roberts used the evidence to charge 43 people, many in Lucas' immediate family, with the crime of drug trafficking. Admittedly, Roberts had a weak case against Lucas, but with the corroboration of the co-defendants, he was able to put enough evidence together to go to trial.
At the trial, several people testified about the devastating effects of heroin, particularly Lucas' "Blue Magic" brand, which was far more potent than most heroin, and caused many deaths due to overdose. Roberts made the case against Lucas, declaring he had "killed more black people than the KKK with the sale of Blue Magic." The jury turned in a guilty verdict, and Lucas was sentenced to 70 years in prison. After a few short months, Lucas turned informant and gave names of Mafia accomplices and corrupt members of the New York police department. He even gave up Atkinson, who was his heroin connection in Thailand. Lucas' testimony resulted in 150 multi-defendant cases including three-quarters of New York's Drug Enforcement Agency and 30 members of his family.
As a reward for his information, Lucas' sentence was reduced to 15 years, and he was released in 1981. He was arrested again in 1984 for trying to exchange an ounce of heroin and $13,000 for a kilogram of cocaine. By this time, Richie Roberts had gone into private practice as a defense attorney and, upon hearing of his onetime nemesis' arrest, contacted Lucas. Even though Lucas had once ordered a $100,000 contract on Roberts' life during the first trial, he was willing to defend Lucas, who accepted. Largely through Roberts' efforts, Lucas received a sentence of seven years; light for a man who had been convicted twice for a similar crime. When he was released from prison in 1991, Roberts contacted Lucas and again offered his help, this time to get his life straight. Lucas had developed a tepid relationship with Roberts during the post-trial investigation.
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