Frank Lucas, the Harlem drug kingpin whose life inspired the 2007 film starring Denzel Washington, was charged with theft by deception last month after he tried to bilk the U.S. Treasury out of $17,345 meant for his teenage son, authorities said.
The Social Security check was issued to Lucas in early October, said Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, but he told government officials the payment was lost when he changed addresses and asked them to send another.
The 81-year-old Lucas — who moved to Newark in the 1980s after he served prison time for running a massive drug empire that smuggled nearly pure heroin into New York and New Jersey — allegedly cashed both checks, Carter said.
Lucas faces up to five years in prison if convicted, Carter said. He is scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Newark on Nov. 28.
The Social Security checks were meant for Lucas’ 15-year-old son, Raymond, said Richie Roberts, the former prosecutor’s detective who prosecuted Lucas in 1976 and later became his defense attorney and confidant.
The government provides Social Security benefits to a child if their parent is unable to care for them due to age or infirmity. Lucas, who once claimed he earned $1 million per day selling his "Blue Magic" brand of heroin, is now confined to a wheelchair, suffers from diabetes and severe arthritis and is unable to provide for his son, Roberts said.
Through his attorney, Lucas has denied any wrongdoing.
The theft charge is a far cry from the criminal activity that allowed Lucas to rise from a penniless Harlem resident in 1946 to one of the country’s most infamous and wealthy drug lords by the 1970s. After moving from North Carolina, Lucas’ rise to prominence began under famed Harlem numbers boss Bumpy "Ellsworth" Johnson.
When Johnson died in 1968, Lucas set out to break the Italian Mafia’s stranglehold on the drug trade in New York, importing nearly pure heroin from Southeast Asia that he sold on the streets of Harlem and Newark. Lucas controlled the gang, referred to as the "Country Boys" from a towering mansion in Teaneck.
Roberts, who oversaw the Essex County Prosecutor’s Bureau of Narcotics in the 1970s, obtained an indictment for Lucas when he shut down a Newark heroin ring led by Lucas’ brother, Vernon. Roberts prosecuted Frank Lucas, winning a conviction that would have sent the kingpin to prison for more than 60 years.
But Lucas became a government informant and his testimony led to the arrest of countless drug dealers and crooked police officers. He served less than 10 years of his sentence.
"His cooperation resulted in the arrest of anybody and everybody he ever sold a dime bag too," Roberts said.