Frank Lucas Dies at 88; Drug Kingpin Depicted in ‘American Gangster’

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His death was confirmed by his nephew Aldwan Lassiter in a telephone interview.

Mr. Lucas’s survivors include four daughters, Francine Lucas-Sinclair and Ruby, Betty and Candace Lucas; two sons, Frank Jr. and Tony Walters; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren; two sisters, Mattie Lassiter and Emma Moye; and three brothers, Ezell, Lawrence and LeVon Lucas. His wife, Julie, and another son, Ray, died before him.

Richard M. Roberts, who led the prosecution of Mr. Lucas in New Jersey, had befriended him in recent years but was under no illusions about what he did long ago. “In truth,” Mr. Roberts told The New York Times in 2007, “Frank Lucas has probably destroyed more black lives than the K.K.K. could ever dream of.”

Frank Lucas was born in La Grange, N.C., on Sept. 9, 1930, to Fred and Mahalee (Jones) Lucas. He had almost no formal education, and as a boy he mugged drunks. At 15 he assaulted a man, stole $400 and fled to New York. He was soon gambling and selling drugs in Harlem; his crimes later escalated to armed robberies.

He established street credibility in 1966 by shooting a notoriously tough drug dealer on a crowded sidewalk four times in the head. “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” he told Mark Jacobson for a 2000 New York magazine profile that was a basis for “American Gangster.” He was never prosecuted for that crime, which he later denied committing.

But he had caught the eye of Ellsworth Johnson, who controlled gambling and extortion rackets in Harlem. Mr. Lucas claimed that Mr. Johnson, who was known as Bumpy, became his mentor. Others disputed this. But after Mr. Johnson died in 1968, Mr. Lucas developed his lucrative criminal enterprise.

In accounts to the authorities, he said that to break the Mafia monopoly on heroin supplies, which were sold in Harlem and Newark by black dealers, he flew to Thailand and met Leslie Atkinson, known as Ike, a North Carolinian married to one of Mr. Lucas’s cousins. He said that Mr. Atkinson, who ran a Bangkok bar and sold drugs to black soldiers, agreed to help.


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