Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, who was born in 1933 in Harlem, was one of the most powerful New York drug dealers of the 1970s. His career as a drug lord began in 1965 when he was imprisoned for heroin consumption. While in New York Green Haven Penitentiary he met the Italian mafia leader “Crazy” Joe Gallo. After both were released, Gallo helped Barnes form a mass drug-dealing organization.
Despite “Crazy” Joe Gallo’s murder on April 7, 1972, Leroy “Nicky” Barnes continued to expand his business. During this period Barnes acquired the nicknamed “Mr. Untouchable” as New York City police attempts to charge him for his crimes always failed because of absence of evidence or unreliable witnesses. By 1973, Barnes gather together the main drug kingpins in New York City to form for the first time a city-wide organization called “the Council.” Modeled on the similar Italian mafia organizations, the aim of this council was to bring order to the drug dealing market by regulating territories for drug dealing to prevent gang wars between African American drug lords.
As his illicit business grew, so did Barnes’ reputation first in the underground spheres of New York and then increasingly among journalists in the city. One journalistic investigation of Barnes and his organization eventually was published in June 1977 in the New York TimesMagazine. Barnes appeared on the front cover after agreeing to be profiled in a photographic shooting session by the magazine. No African American drug lord had ever had garnered such favorable attention in a major New York newspaper or journal.
The photo-shoot and accompanying story of Barnes, however, had unintended consequences as the publicity brought him to the attention of federal authorities. Newly-elected President Jimmy Carter was said to be appalled at the prominent of Barnes and ordered federal law enforcement officials to intensify their efforts to arrest him and bring down his crime organization. President Carter insisted that Barnes be tracked down and arrested by the Justice Department. As a result, later in 1977, Leroy Nicky Barnes was arrested by federal and state authorities in New York City. He was tried in a U.S. District Court for interstate drug trafficking, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison on January 19, 1978.
After entering prison, the former drug lord began to cooperate with local and federal authorities. He was an undercover informer and then a prosecution witness, helping to convict his previous associates. Thanks to the information he transmitted, Barnes was released earlier at the request of the United States Attorney in Manhattan. Finally released in August 1998, he was placed under the federal Witness Protection Program.
In 2007, Barnes released his autobiography titled Mr. Untouchable written with the help of filmmaker Tom Folsom, who later created a documentary based on the memoirs. Leroy Nicky Barnes also appeared in a couple of fictional adaptations, such as the 2007 film American Gangster directed by Ridley Scott.