Frank Lucas, the drug trafficking kingpin whose life was portrayed in the hit movie “American Gangster,” died Thursday night at the age of 88 in New Jersey.
Lucas’ death was confirmed by his nephew Aldwan Lassiter, who said his uncle died of natural causes.
Lucas became notorious in the drug world after his mentor Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson died in 1968. He began importing pure heroin from Southeast Asia and sold large quantities of the drug in Harlem and Newark.
Before his arrest, Frank Lucas transported drugs from Southeast Asia in coffins of U.S. soldiers from Vietnam.
Lucas controlled the gang, referred to as the “Country Boys,” from a mansion in Teaneck.
“I probably did more damage than I did good. I probably did, and that’s a fact,” Lucas told reporters in 2013. “At that time, I wasn’t aware of what I was doing. All I knew is, I was making big dollars. A bad business was a good business. It was a horrible business, put it that way. I was in the heroin business … the worst you can get. You can’t get no lower than that, and I was in it. Up to my head. If you wanna put that I was a no good son of a bitch, be my guest. ‘Cause that’s what I was.”
While transporting the drugs, Lucas claimed he was making over $1 million per day while opting to live a lavish life, rather than hiding in the shadows.
In the Times article “The Return of Superfly” from 2000, Lucas claimed, “I had so much f—— money — you have no idea.”
He added, “I bought Harlem, I owned Harlem, I ran Harlem.” His illegal drug reign ended in 1975, when his house was raided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
However, the law soon caught up to Lucas. Richard Roberts, who oversaw the Essex County Prosecutor’s Bureau of Narcotics in the 1970s, indicted Lucas after shutting down a heroin market run by Lucas’ brother, Vernon.
Lucas flipped and became an informant, leading the government to arrest numerous drug dealers. After serving less than 10 years of his sentence, Lucas moved to Newark in the ’80s.
In the critically acclaimed 2007 film “American Gangster,” Denzel Washington played Lucas and Russell Crowe portrayed Roberts.
Roberts and Lucas later became friends.
“There are a lot of people that love him and a lot of people that hate him,” Roberts said after Lucas received probation in 2012 for stealing more than $17,000 from the federal government. “He’ll always have the stigma of heroin distribution. Let’s face it, a lot of people died because of what he sold.”
But Roberts also added: “He also did good by helping put a lot of people behind bars. It was a hell of a run.”