Monday, July 26, 2010

Glorifying the Criminal

by Diane Dimond

There are always so many topics to write about, but today I want to tell you about Frank. He’s written a book. And he appears to be the toast of the town, getting full page write-ups for his new autobiography, Original Gangster. His publicity machine from St. Martin's Press has tried to convince TV and radio personalities to interview Frank because his story is "a chilling look at the rise and fall of a modern legacy.” And besides, they gush, Denzel Washington once portrayed Frank in the movie American Gangster.

Frank is Frank Lucas, the nefarious drug lord who admits that he hooked a huge portion of his Harlem neighborhood on heroin back in the late '60s and early '70s. Once his pockets were stuffed with the blood money of his trade, he drove around town in a Rolls Royce and strutted into events with the elite in entertainment, politics and crime in full length chinchilla fur coats.

Lucas is a proven liar, and many of his oft-repeated fabrications have found their way into this book, presented as truth. Why should anyone buy it?

Lucas had long claimed that after leaving North Carolina, he’d spent 15 years as the driver for New York crime boss Bumpy Johnson. But Johnson spent only five years outside prison before his death in 1968, making Lucas’s claim impossible. Lucas maintained he pushed the Italian Mafia aside, and earned $1 million a day selling his poison on Harlem street corners, an amount not feasible for the times. He has the audacity to brag that he smuggled his “Blue Magic” heroin into the U.S. from Southeast Asia in the coffins of American soldiers who had died in Vietnam.

His longtime drug dealing partner, Ike Atkinson (a.k.a. “Sergeant Smack” to federal investigators), says the fact is they transported the drugs hidden inside hollowed out furniture.

One recent reviewer of the new book writes: “Through much of his autobiography, Lucas is largely unapologetic, defending his illegal operation as a corporation that (simply) met a demand.” I guess these days that’s all it takes for an unrepentant thug to be rewarded with a book deal.

The story of how Frank Lucas destroyed a significant portion of a generation by getting them hooked on heroin has been glorified for years now – at the expense of those in law enforcement who worked so long and hard to shut down Lucas's criminal enterprise. I have come to know at least half a dozen of those involved in the Lucas investigation – from the DEA and from local cop shops – and they are livid about how twisted the truth has become.

Hollywood decided Lucas’s life would translate well to the big screen. In 2007 director Ridley Scott’s American Gangster hit theaters billed as: “The true juggernaut success story of a cult figure from the streets.” Much of the story was false, according to those officers actually involved in the case. Example: Lucas’s claim that “dirty cops” stole $11 million in cash from his attic when they raided his Tenafly, New Jersey, home in 1975.

The truth came out in court, when officers testified they’d actually found only $584,683 in cash in the house. Every dollar of it was produced for the jury to see. The movie also depicts officers roughing up Lucas’s wife during the raid and shooting his dog, neither of which really occurred.

The final and most damaging lie came at the very end of American Gangster, when a screen legend declared that after his take-down, Lucas’s ultimate cooperation with authorities resulted in the conviction of “three-quarters of the New York City’s Drug Enforcement Agency.”

The truth? Not one officer was charged or convicted of anything. A judge hearing a lawsuit filed by some of the offended officers roundly criticized movie producer Universal, calling the legend “wholly inaccurate.” But there it remains as the final punctuation point on the film and on countless DVD’s of it sold worldwide.

And now, as if to rub salt in the wounds of these cops who worked so hard to bring down Frank Lucas, he has once again found a way to make money from his tall, self-aggrandizing tales.

I think society can learn a lot from talking to and listening to criminals. It’s only when we realize how they think, what makes them tick, that we can figure out how to identify others just like them and reduce their effect on the rest of us.

But there are no revelations in this book – just the grandiose lies of a man who willingly sold venom to others so he could afford mink coats and a nice house far away from the scene of his crimes.

1 comment:

Story Teller said...

Great post, Diane. It's disheartening how often lies are presented as fact and believed, simply because they're "sexier" than the truth. Thanks for setting the record straight. I haven't seen the movie, haven't read the book, and don't intend to.