Frank Lucas Biography

Frank Lucas, an American gangster and drug kingpin, rose from a financially disadvantaged background in North Carolina to become one of the most notorious figures in the illegal drug trade. Starting with petty crimes in his youth, Frank eventually found himself in New York City, where he joined forces with the influential gangster Bumpy Johnson. Following Johnson’s death, Frank took control of his drug empire and ventured to Thailand to break the Italian Mafia’s monopoly by trafficking pure heroin into New York. His wealth and power grew exponentially, making him one of the city’s wealthiest and most feared criminals. However, his reign came to an end when authorities raided his home in 1975, prompted by a betrayal from one of his own nephews. Sentenced to 70 years in prison, Frank was eventually released after serving only 5 years. Despite subsequent arrests on drug-related charges, Frank’s legacy as a notorious figure in the criminal underworld endures, with his passing in 2019 marking the end of an era.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 88
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Julianna Farrait
    • Father: Fred Lucas
    • Mother: Mahalee Lucas
    • Children: Betty Lucas, Candace Lucas, Francine Lucas-Sinclair, Frank Lucas Jr., Ray Lucas, Ruby Lucas, Tony Walters
  • Born Country: United States
  • Gangsters
  • Drug Lords
  • Died on: May 30, 2019
  • Place of death: Cedar Grove, New Jersey, United States
  • More Facts:
    • Education: Oklahoma State University

Childhood & Early Life

Frank Lucas was born on September 9, 1930, in La Grange, North Carolina, to Mahalee and Fred Lucas. He spent his childhood with many siblings in Greensboro, North Carolina, amidst financial struggles. Life was not easier for the Americans in the 1930s, as the era of depression had caused mass employment and poverty. Additionally, for the African-American families, living during that era presented a host of other issues, such as race discrimination.

Frank Lucas grew up in a neighbourhood where crimes were very common and he himself got into trouble on many occasions. He looked after his siblings and got involved in petty crimes while in his teenage years.

He claims that he witnessed one of the defining moments of his life when he was six years old. One of his cousins, aged thirteen, was murdered by the members of Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist organization. Frank was deeply affected by the death of his cousin who was, as per the murderers, killed for looking at a white woman in a flirtatious way.

Growing up during the era of depression, he took it as his responsibility to feed the family and upon growing up a bit, he began stealing food. He grew stronger in his mid teenage, and began mugging drunk customers outside the taverns.

Frank Lucas decided to earn wage doing decent work in the later teen years and began working as a truck driver for a pipe company. However, he was soon fired from the job after his boss caught him sleeping with his daughter. Frank and his boss had a physical altercation as a result, which led Frank to hit his boss on head with a pipe. Fearing that he would be arrested and sent to a prison, his mother asked Frank to leave North Carolina which had him moving to New York.

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Life of Crime in New York

In 1946, Frank Lucas arrived in Harlem and was asked to get a decent paying job as a doorman, or an elevator operator. However, Frank had his eyes set on bigger things. He observed that gambling and drugs were where the real money was involved. He took to the streets and began his New York crime life when he robbed a local bar. He committed a few more thefts, loots and violent acts before he became confident in what he was doing. The money was pouring in and he decided to go bigger with his aspirations.

His major claim to fame amidst local criminals happened in 1966 when he shot a named gangster dead in a crowded street, who had backed down on a drug deal. This deed attracted the attention of a local gangster named Ellsworth Johnson, who asked Frank to join his gang.

Frank became a key man in Ellsworth’s gang and learned a great deal about the drug business from him. In-fact, Frank took his mentor’s teachings many notches further and they established one of the most infamous drug rings in America of the 20th century.

In 1968, Johnson passed away and the areas under him were open to take hold of. Frank took hold of many of those regions and became a local drug lord. However, he knew that in order to take over Johnson’s drug empire, he needed to finish the monopoly of the Italian mafia.

In order to do that, he needed to locate the sources of the drugs and deal directly from there. He travelled to Bangkok, Thailand, where he met Leslie Atkinson in a bar. Leslie was married to one of Lucas’ cousins and was a former U.S. Army sergeant. They struck a deal to smuggle drugs into the United States.

The Vietnam War was at its full scale in the late 1960s and Leslie knew almost every other black man in the American army. They travelled across Thailand and met a man named Luetchi Rubiwat, who was Leslie’s main connection and business partner.

They visited poppy fields, and the areas were poppy was processed into high quality heroin. Frank bought heroin at $4,200 per kg and trafficked the drugs into Harlem, where it was sold for $50,000 per kg at-least.

Frank Lucas had a policy of working only with the men he knew, i.e. family or friends, and was the only one in-charge of the entire drug trafficking operation, other than Leslie. Frank would sometimes disguise himself as an American army officer and employed many army personnel, to carry drugs into America.

Frank claimed that he flew drugs into America in the fake caskets made for the American servicemen and had brought a North Carolina carpenter to Thailand to make the caskets. However, Leslie denied the claims and said that the drugs were smuggled only in furniture.

Back into the U.S.

Frank Lucas took a very professional route to grow his business and hired five of his brothers to help him with his business, giving them individual territories to operate in. He also used criminal tactics such as violence and intimidation to inspire respect and fear.

With that careful planning and tactics, Frank soon grew extremely rich, claiming that he was making about a million dollars a day during the heights of his operation. To launder the money, he owned dry cleaners and gas stations, and further bought properties and expensive cars.

In 1971, the New York Police Department formed the Special Narcotics Task Force and in January 1975, they raided Frank’s house located at Teaneck, New Jersey. One of Lucas’ nephews also broke down during the ongoing interrogation and disclosed much of the drug ring to the authorities, which eventually led to the downfall of the Frank Lucas drug empire.

Trial and Prison

Frank Lucas was convicted of many drug related and federal charges and was sentenced to 70 years in prison. However, he was put into a witness protection program after his testimonies led to more than a 100 drug related convictions. His sentence was reduced to five years, and he was released in 1981. Most of his fortune had been confiscated.

In 1984, he was caught again by the authorities for trying to sell heroin and cocaine. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and was released in 1991.

Personal Life & Death

Frank Lucas married Julianna Farrait-Rodriguez and had seven children with her. Julianna was a homecoming queen and throughout their courtship, they both gifted each other expensive gifts.

Frank’s wife was also jailed for five years for being his accomplice. They lived separately for many years following their release and got together again in 2006.

During the final years of his life, Frank lived on a wheelchair, after an accident broke his legs. He passed away on May 30, 2019, in New Jersey. In 2007, Hollywood film ‘American Gangster’ was released, which was loosely based on his life. While Frank appreciated Denzel Washington’s performance portraying him, he said that most of the facts about his life that were included in the film were untrue.

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