Drug Trafficking: Investigation on Frank Lucas

Organized crimes have become major threats to the peace and security of nations all over the world, and tackling organized crimes has been a growing concern for the world nations as such criminal activities adversely affect the peaceful inhabitation and the normal lifestyle of people. According to the Council of Europe, “Organized crime means: the illegal activities carried out by structured groups of three or more persons existing for a prolonged period of time and having the aim of committing serious crimes through concerted action by using intimidation, violence, corruption or other means in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or another material benefit. (Council of Europe, 2002, p.6).

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The nature of organized crimes varies from one group to another: drug trafficking, human trafficking or hijacking, money laundering, murder for hire, political and religiously motivated violence, etc. are some of the main criminal works undertaken by various criminal groups.

Drug trafficking is identified as the most prevalent form of organized crime in the United States. As the President’s Commission on Organized Crime( 1986) observes:drug trafficking is the most widespread and lucrative organized crime operation in the United States, accounting for nearly 40 percent of this country’s organized crime activity and generating an annual income estimated to be as high as $110 billion.” (Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, 1986).

The activities undertaken by the drug mafias include cocaine trafficking (handled exclusively by Columbian trafficking organizations and smuggled to the United States by American citizens), marijuana, and heroin trafficking. Drug trafficking organizations very often use members of street gangs for their activities, and so it becomes difficult for the governmental agencies to identify the real gang leaders; it also leads to gang-related violence due to rivalries among the gangs and homicides, which make the lives of the common people.

Thus, these criminal street gangs terrorize citizens and communities all throughout the state. This essay attempts to conduct an investigative study into the life of Frank Lucas, one of the most dreaded gang leaders in heroin trafficking.

An investigation into the life, career, and growth of Frank Lucas from a poor black boy to a criminal gang leader helps one to understand the nature, structure, functioning, development, and the organized and structured activities of criminal drug mafia groups who unite for a common purpose, especially to make a monetary benefit or to amass wealth all of a sudden. Frank Lucas was born on September 9, 1930, in North Carolina, and he established himself to be the most dreaded heroin dealer and organized crime boss by the 1960s and early 1970s.

He moved to Harlem in 1946, and his becoming the driver and trustworthy disciple of gangster Ellsworth Johnson was a great turning point in his life. When Johnson died in 1968, Lucas took charge of his heroin empire and expanded it during the Harlem heroin plague of the seventies. He started his criminal history by smuggling heroin from Vietnam using the coffins of dead American servicemen. He was able to establish connections even outside the US; he had exercised almost complete control over the Sicilian and Mexican mobs that he used effectively as his gang members to smuggle and sell heroin.

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His sole ambition was to get rich, and he realized soon that only through illegal and criminal activities could he accomplish his dreams and goals. Being a crafty and cunning gang leader, he always ensured that his gang members were loyal and faithful to him; for this purpose, he employed his own relatives and men from his own hometown in North Carolina as drug agents. He relied on this tightly controlled crew which was known as “The Country Boys.”

The criminal history of Frank Lucas has a lot to do with his own bitter experiences in life during his childhood. One tends to remember the fact that no one is born a criminal, but circumstances make him so. It was true of Frank; when he was only six years old, his 13-year-old cousin was killed for looking at a white woman. He had to look after the family and save his family members from poverty early in his teens, as he was the eldest boy in the family.

Thus, he resorted to a criminal life first by stealing food and later, mugging drunks. He had to leave his home in his teens for a livelihood; he thus left his homeland and headed for Harlem after taking $400 from his boss and setting the man’s place on fire. Harlem provided him a lot of opportunities to develop the career of a notorious criminal under the wings of Johnson. Most of his drug dealing business was centered in 116th street in Harlem, and he destroyed anyone who got in his way.

He could command the support of the local people there, and everyone had respect towards him which was coupled with fear and terror because of his unscrupulous ways. Thus, he remained the uncrowned king of the Harlem drug scene in the late sixties and in the early seventies. He made almost a million dollars a day and in no time became a multi-millionaire.

Organized drug mafias very often have a large network of connections which include government informants, and this is evident from the fact that out of the 70 SIU officers, 52 were either jailed or indicted after Lucas was arrested for associating with him and his criminal drug mafia. It was a shock to everyone when Frank Lucas was arrested in 1975 in New Jersey by detective Richie Roberts, and he was charged with Federal State drug violations.

Even though he was sentenced to imprisonment for seventy years, his sentence was reduced to 15 years as he cooperated with the police in tracking drug-related activities. In 1981, he was released from prison on parole. He continued his drug violations and was arrested again in 1984, for which he received a sentence of seven years. At last, he was released from prison in 1991. Even though his life was limited to the wheelchair, he still remains as an icon for the black man to climb the steps to success and power.

The life and the sudden growth of Frank Lucas was a mystery to the Americans, and later when his story was converted into a movie, it was greeted with a warm reception in the states. The movie American Gangster (2007), directed by Ridley Scott, depicts the life of Lucas, and many believe that the movie was inaccurate as it glorified the villain. Frank Lucas cherished the American Dream, and all his life was determined to attain it.

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There is no doubt that he was ingenious, and he had the intelligence to outshine the governmental agencies. Being a black man and a poor country boy, he knew for certain that he would never be able to accomplish his dream without hard work and dishonesty. For this, he identified that indulging in the illegal activity of selling and marketing drugs was the only means before him to fulfill his dreams. Thus, he was in a way adventurous enough to seize the so-called opportunities that came his way and turn them his way to achieve success.

The investigative study on Frank Lucas has made me aware of the background, the nature, and the functioning of organized crime groups in the US. The study also convinced me of the fact that it is difficult to categories the criminal activities undertaken by various organized crime groups. As suggested by Louise Shelly: “Organized crime groups engage in such widely publicized activities as drugs and arms trafficking, smuggling of automobiles and people and trafficking in stolen art.

They also engage in such insidious activities as smuggling of embargoed commodities, industrial and technological espionage, financial market manipulation, and the corruption and control of groups within and outside of the legal state system.” (Shelley, 1995). It is sad to note that organized crimes in America stem from the country and not from any outside forces. Organized crimes in America have risen to such a level that they have undermined the rule of law, international security, and the very concept of nation-state as individual liberty is shattered and the common man’s life has become terror-ridden.

The issues of racism and ethnicity have accelerated the growth of organized crime units as they have roots in other countries and ethnic groups. This is very well observed by Robert. J. Kelly, Ko-Lin Chin, and Rufus Schatzberg when they state that “Numerous government officials, law enforcement specialists, and social scientists have described the organized crime as part of the American way of life. While many organized criminals themselves have national and ethnic roots in other cultures and societies, the fundamental criminal methods and ways of thought are not alien.

Rather than being an alien conspiracy originating outside the United States, organized crime is indeed American–woven into the fabric of our society so thoroughly that we do not easily recognize it as special or different, immensely wealthy, or powerful.” (Kelly, Chin & Schatzberg, 1994). As evident from the case study of Frank Lucas, due to the prevalent racist and ethnic issues, organized crimes and violent gang activities were one of the easiest ways for many of the minorities in America to establish themselves and become powerful.

The investigative study also necessitates an understanding of the preventive measures and knowledge regarding the various national and international bodies that fight against organized crimes. There should be better and effective enforcement measures aimed at the detection, seizure, confiscation of assets, and prosecution of offenders belonging to various organized criminal groups like that of Frank Lucas. Various national and international bodies have been formed for this purpose.

The FBI tries to coordinate between Law Enforcement Agencies with a view to target gangs and organized crime groups. Similarly, The State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs leads the other agencies, including the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense, in coordinating United Nation’s anti- drug programs and initiatives. International bodies like the Eurasian Organized Crime Working Group, Central European Working Group and the South European Cooperative Initiative have played pivotal roles to coordinate policies, to establish lines of communication and working relations and to develop tactics and strategies to fight organized crimes.

Thus, organized crimes and crime groups can be eliminated only with combined efforts and multifaceted strategies. The governmental agencies should make use of all the services of advanced information technology available at their disposal, to track and destroy all sorts of organized crime groups and for this there should be clearly defined and well set policies and governmental legislative procedures.

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Council of Europe. (2002). Crime Analysis: Organized crime – Best practice survey no. 4. Strasbourg: France. 6.

Kelly, R. J., Chin, K. L., & Schatzberg, R. (1994). Handbook of Organized Crime in the United States. Greenwood Press.

Schaffer Library of Drug policy. (1986). Drug Abuse, Drug Trafficking & Organized Crime. President’s Commission on Organized Crime. Web.

Shelley, L. (1995). Transactional Organized Crime: An Imminent Threat to the Nation State. Journal of International Affairs, 48.

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