The Ugly – Frank Lucas

This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.

The Ugly – Frank Lucas

What is it with kids from North Carolina moving to Harlem for a better life?

Lucas' January 1975 federal mug shot.
Lucas’ January 1975 federal mug shot.

Frank Lucas was born in La Grange, North Carolina on Sept. 9, 1930. Much of the story of his upbringing is part of the myth Lucas claimed for himself. He claimed he turned to crime after the Ku Klux Klan murdered his 12-year-old cousin for ogling a white woman.

Lucas’ family was very poor – the Great Depression was still going on. He stole food for his family or mug drunks outside the local bar. In 1946, he worked as a truck driver, but was caught having sex with the boss’ daughter. Lucas hit his boss on the head with a pipe, stole $400 from the company, and set the place on fire. His mother told him to go to New York to avoid prosecution.

In Harlem, Lucas was a hustler and claimed to have been taken under the wing of Bumpy Johnson (see post on Stephanie Saint-Clair). How close the two were is questionable, but Lucas learned from Johnson and after Johnson died in 1968, Lucas took control of Harlem.

Starting with breaking the monopoly the Italian Mafia had on the heroin trade, Lucas traveled to Bangkok to go directly to the source of the drug. There he met up with Leslie “Ike” Atkinson, the husband of one of Lucas’ cousins. Atkinson ran Jack’s American Bar and also supplied drugs to American soldiers. Wanting to see how the drug trade worked, the two traveled through the jungles of Thailand and met with Atkinson’s business partner, Luetchi Rubiwat. Rubiwat controlled hundreds of acres of poppy fields located next to caves where the poppies were turned into heroin. On this trip, Lucas bought 132 kilos of heroin for $4,200 per unit – the Italian Mafia would have charged $50,00 for a kilo in Harlem.

Lucas and Atkinson formed an international distribution system which included enlisted men, and even high-ranking American and South Vietnamese officers. The heroin would usually be packed in furniture and then shipped to military bases on the east coast of the United States. The heroin would then be unpacked and prepped for sale. Being extremely careful, Lucas used only close friends and relatives from North Carolina. His five younger brothers worked with him and they became known as the “Country Boys.” He also had a few New York City cops on his payroll too.

Because he had nearly pure heroin shipped, he was able to cut the drug at a higher level, about twice what was available on the street. He hired women to cut the heroin with mannite and quinine – and to prevent theft, these women wore only plastic gloves. And Lucas was not above inflicting pain on anyone who stood in his way.

Lucas claimed to make a million dollars a day. He would launder the money, but also invest in legitimate businesses, including a ranch in North Carolina where he raised Black Angus cattle.

In the early 1970s, New York City’s police corruption became well known. A new investigative narcotics unit was formed called the Special Narcotics Task Force (SNTF). On Jan. 28, 1975, Lucas’ home in Teaneck, New Jersey was raided. They recovered $584,000, keys to Cayman Island safe deposit boxes, deeds, and 10 people were arrested – but Lucas was not.

But he was not free for long. Lucas’ nephew spilled the beans while being interrogated. He gave the names of those involved,and locations of buys and public phones used to make the deals. While on trial, witnessed testified about Lucas’ “Blue Magic” brand of heroin. It was stronger than most street heroin and led to overdose deaths. Special prosecutor Richard “Richie” Roberts said Lucas “killed more black people than the KKK with the sale of Blue Magic.”

Facing a sentence of 70 years in prison, Lucas turned informant giving up the names of Italian Mafia and police accomplices, and even giving up Atkinson. So much for family loyalty. As a result, Lucas was sentenced to 15 years and was out in 1981. He was arrested again in 1984 on another drug charge, but this time was defended by now private defense attorney Roberts – even though Lucas once ordered a $100,000 contract on Roberts’ life. Lucas received a sentence of seven years and was released in 1991. Wanting to turn straight, he worked with Roberts and their relationship grew such that Roberts became the godfather of Lucas’ son.  

After prison, Lucas returned to Harlem. He noted the misery of the neighborhood, mostly caused from his work as a dealer. Lucas started working on repairing the community and working with his daughter in her organization, Yellow Brick Roads, which works with children whose parents are incarcerated.


References: Editors. (n.d.). Frank Lucas Biography. Retrieved February 7, 2017, from
Frank Lucas (drug dealer). (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 7, 2017, from


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