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Diane Dimond Headshot

Glorifying the Criminal

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So many topics to write about this week! British Petroleum investigated for possible criminal activity over the oil spill in the Gulf! Notorious Dutchman Joran van der Sloot confesses to killing a young Peruvian woman! The headlines have been on fire about these stories.

But this week 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 entitled Original Gangster. His publicity machine from St. Martin's Press is trying to convince TV and radio personalities to interview Frank because his story is, "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 he hooked a huge portion of his Harlem neighborhood on heroin back in the late 60's and early 70's. 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 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' claim impossible. Lucas maintained he pushed the Italian Mafia aside and earned 1 million dollars a day selling his poison on Harlem street corners, an unfeasible amount for the times. He has the audacity to brag that he'd 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 it hidden inside hollowed out furniture.

One recent review of the new book states, "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 his criminal enterprise. I have come to know at least half a dozen of those involved in the Lucas investigation -- both from the DEA and local cop shops -- and they are livid about how twisted the truth has become.

Hollywood decided Lucas' life would translate well to the big screen and in 2007, director Ridley Scott's movie, American Gangster hit theaters billed as "The true juggernaut success story of a cult figure from the streets." Much of it was a lie, according to those officers actually involved in the case. Example: Lucas' claim that "dirty cops" stole 11 million dollars 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 $584,683.00 in cash in the house and every dollar of it was produced for the jury to see. The movie also depicts officers roughing up Lucas' wife during the raid and shooting his dog, neither of which really happened.

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' 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 American Gangster DVD's 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 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 mitigate 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.

Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site: