Rolling Out

Frank Lucas: Lessons learned from the real ‘American Gangster’

Frank Lucas, former heroin Kingpin who ran New York City (Photo Credit- Mo Barnes for Rolling Out)
Frank Lucas, former heroin Kingpin who ran New York City (Photo Credit- Mo Barnes for Rolling Out)

At one time, Frank Lucas was the most feared man in Harlem, New York. He was the “kingpin” who controlled the majority of the heroin trade in the city. His story was made famous by the 2007 film American Gangster that showed his rise to power and extravagant lifestyle. It also showed his ruthlessness and the fear he put into the hearts of others. Lucas was able to control the heroin trade by cutting out the Italian mafia and going straight to the source in Southeast Asia. He dealt directly with the producers of heroin and was able to bring the product back to the streets at a high potency. He marketed his heroin under the name Blue Magic and it became a preferred street brand among addicts in New York City. Lucas was later arrested and turned informant on many other drug dealers and crooked cops after he was facing a lengthy jail sentence. The end result was that all his riches and power were stripped away from him by the government and he served a relatively short time in prison considering his role in the drug trade.

Now Lucas is far from from his days as one of the richest Black drug dealers in America. He must use a motorized wheelchair because of a car accident that injured his legs. In addition, he is hard of hearing and his hands have become gnarled due to age and arthritis. But his mind is still keen and he had a story to tell at the offices of rolling out.

A lot has changed since you were in the drug game but some things are still the same. Young black men are still going to jail for dealing but not on the scale that you were. Will the streets of America ever be drug-free?
No. I don’t see it; that’s my opinion.

What are three of the most valuable lessons you learned as the Harlem kingpin?
Well, all I can say is go to church, praise God and try not to get in trouble.

People have called you many names but what made men fear you?
People fear people they respect because of the things that they do, because they are afraid [of] what they will do.

Do you think the government allowed your heroin trafficking to get so huge because it was perceived to be confined to the Black community?
I don’t know the answer to that, pass.

How has God impacted your life today?
He’s the only thing that impacts my life. No one else can do it. He is the Almighty. He’s the Alpha and the Omega that’s what he is.

What was your greatest fear when you and your family were in the witness protection program?
You got that wrong. Where that s**t come from? You got to fear somebody to be in the witness protection program and I have never feared nobody.

The legal sale of marijuana has become big business and yet there is a grass ceiling that keeps Blacks from making the transition from consumers to businesspeople. Why do you think that is the case?
I can’t answer that. I don’t smoke marijuana. I never been around it. I never dealt in marijuana. I don’t like the smell of it and I know nothing about it. Next question.

At one point you held a considerable amount of real estate that was eventually seized including property in New York.
I had a billion dollars worth of real estate; they took it all, every dime. I’m broke now.

In previous interviews, you stated you wanted to be “as big as Donald Trump.”
I was as big as Donald Trump. He got $40 billion; now, I got twenty cents.

What are five things people should do when stopped by police?
Stay in school, praise God and a bunch of other things I can’t think about.

What are some of the “Gangster Commandments”?
Well you know what a gangster is so I’m not even going to try to go into that. But for the average person, fear. And when they ask for something, try to get it to them. That’s what makes a person a billionaire.

What are businesses that Black people should be in but are not in?
I can’t give you five. But they should be in real estate and they should be in the movie industry like Mr. Denzel Washington.  Banking, business all that kind of stuff.

How did your wife change your life?
My wife changed my life [160] degrees. She wanted me to get out of the business but I didn’t listen. She died two months ago.

What does redemption mean to you and what role does it play in your life today?
Everything, everything, everything.

If you had something to do over in life, what would it be?
I guess I would be the chairman of Pepsi-Cola or something. But I didn’t go to school so I couldn’t get a job on Wall Street.  Unless, I cleaned the toilet out. So I had to make money some kind of way/  I wanted a big thick steak and champagne, so I had to did it another way. God bless “Bumpy” Johnson, he showed me the way. I went in with both feet. From the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Burma, Rangoon, Hong Kong and Malaysia, until I got what I wanted.

YYou mentioned “Bumpy” Johnson, what are two things  he told you that you will never forget?
Bumpy told me so much I can’t even begin. He was like my daddy, my godfather. He was a mild man, brother you wish you had a daddy like Bumpy. He was a great man.

When you’re dealing with a crooked cop what’s the most important thing?
[Response was deleted at the request of the Frank Lucas management team.]

What are your feelings on the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests of young Black people today?
Did you see what the guy did the other day down in Louisiana (referring to the police killing of Alton Sterling) I feel like murdering the other son of B—*.

Do you think that the activist in the Black Lives Matter movement are doing the right thing by protesting?
I think they should do it. I think the whole United States should be protesting.

What’s the greatest message you can give to our Black youth today?
Respect you mom and daddy and go to school. Let them live like a President Obama. Don’t let it be like it was when I grew up.

What do you have to say to young people who may be tempted into doing something immoral?
If you do Something immoral, you should be punished, But momma and daddy got to stop them before they do something immoral. They have to stop them while they are young. Don’t be scarred to put a strap on their ass.

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