As one of the country’s most notorious gangsters and drug kingpins, Frank Lucas has led a very public life, even having his story depicted in the film American Gangster. Lucas was born to Mahalee Jones Lucas and Fred Lucas, on September 9, 1930 in La Grange, North Carolina. As a young boy, his family lived the typical poverty of the Great Depression. Lucas took to a life of petty crime as a teen. He began by stealing food but later escalated to robbing people outside of bars. Eventually, while dating the daughter of his boss at the time, Lucas attacked the father and stole money from the company before setting the business on fire. Fearing jail time, Lucas fled to New York following these attacks.
Having seen success as a youth in his life of crime, Lucas decided to continue this trend in New York. Lucas initiated his New York crime life by robbing a bar at gun point. He then engaged in jewelry theft and robbery of high stakes poker games. Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, a well-known New York gangster took note of his acts and invited Lucas into his gang. Johnson became a mentor and teacher and when he passed away in 1968, Lucas used his death to gain control of the drug market in Harlem.
In order to increase his supply of heroin, Lucas used a cousin, Leslie Atkinson, who supplied drugs to U.S. Servicemen out of his bar in Bangkok, Thailand, to help Lucas make contact with local poppy dealers. Atkinson also agreed to help Lucas recruited trusted military personnel and corrupt police officers to aid in their efforts. Lucas became the first black drug kingpin to smuggle heroin from Southeast Asia directly into the United States.
Lucas has a carpenter create false-bottomed caskets for deceased American soldiers killed in Vietnam. The heroin, which he called “Blue Magic,” would then be smuggled into the United States. As his drug business in the United States expanded, Lucas began laundering the money through Cayman Islands banks and real estate including office buildings and apartments in Los Angeles, California, Miami, Florida, Detroit, Michigan, and Puerto Rico, and a cattle ranch in North Carolina. His wealth also led to fame, as he was often seen with celebrities of the time and celebrated for his lavish purchases. Lucas’ Puerto Rican wife, Julianna Farrait-Rodriguez, once purchased a chinchilla fur coat and matching hat for Lucas, and he often bought her expensive jewelry.
Federal prosecutors eventually built a case against Lucas and in 1975 after a surprise raid on his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, one of his relatives who was arrested agreed to testify against Lucas. Frank Lucas was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison. Lucas, however, served only five years after agreeing to become a government informant.
Lucas was arrested again in 1984 for the exchange of heroin for cocaine and was sentenced to another seven years in prison. In 2012, Lucas now 82, was arrested a third time for theft by deception but was sentenced to probation due to his frail health. Frank Lucas and his wife Julianna had seven children including a daughter, Francine and a son, Frank Lucas, Jr. Lucas today is confined to a wheelchair after he was in a car accident that broke his legs.