THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

American Gangster Frank Lucas: EXPOSED

Wasn't what I expected. Instead of being entertained, at the very least, I gagged my way through Frank Lucas's ego-driven fantasy, his auto-biography called Original Gangster. (The movie American Gangster starred Denzel Washington as Lucas.) What's more, I came away with the impression that Lucas is one consummate jerk.

(Photo at right: Ron Chepesiuk & Ike Atkinson)

Consider these Lucas statements from his book:

“She [first wife] was always needling me to get married. I finally agreed—for no other reason than I wanted her off my back. I didn’t take marriage vows very seriously.”

“I didn’t understand how people could use the stuff [heroin.] But that wasn’t my concern. I was an entrepreneur. Not a psychologist. Not a social worker.”

“I was drunk off power…I really started to think I was invincible. Forget that what I was doing was a crime and that it can be argued that I was completely immoral. I was an uneducated black man from rural North Carolina who was now running a multimillion-dollar business.”

“I slipped into the coat and adjusted the hat on my head and took in my reflection in the full-length mirror. All I could do was let out a low whistle and make a 360-degree turn. My shit was hot.”

And after he was finally shut out of hustling heroin:

“What was I supposed to do now? Be a janitor? Work at a fast-food restaurant? ...Getting caught and locked up was just an occupational hazard.”

The above quotes are merely a sampling from Lucas’s life story—a tale short on facts and long on self aggrandizement.

Well-known true crime expert and investigate journalist Ron Chepesiuk interviewed Frank Lucas for his non-fiction book, Gangsters of Harlem prior to the book’s release in 2007. Ron also wrote the recently released book, Sergeant Smack, the life of Ike Atkinson, head of a $400 million Southeast Asian heroin smuggling operation. Mob Speak was eager to hear Ron’s take on Frank Lucas and his association with Ike Atkinson.

[Mob Speak considered some of the statements below so important, we highlighted them in red.]

MS: How did you first get interested in Frank Lucas?

RC: When I was researching my book Gangsters of Harlem, I decided to profile Frank Lucas for the book and used my sources to arrange an interview with him. In the interview, he kept referring to Ike Atkinson, whom he called his cousin, which I later learned was false, and talked about how Atkinson had helped him to pioneer the Asian connection and move heroin in the coffins of dead U.S. soldiers from the Vietnam War. I thought, I have to look into this and find out what Atkinson has to say about his relationship with Lucas. I learned that Ike was in jail for 31 years at that point and had never given an interview. Not a good sign for a journalist like me. But I sent a letter to him in the prison where he was incarcerated. Fortunately, I mentioned that I had talked to Lucas. Atkinson was curious and agreed to see me. During the interview, he became livid when I told him what Lucas had said about him. I describe the prison interview scene in my book, Sergeant Smack

MS: What research have you done on Lucas?

RC: I have researched Lucas’ life and allegations perhaps more than any other journalist. In my profile of Lucas for my Harlem book, I interviewed DEA and NYPD sources that arrested and interrogated him. I also looked through court records and interviewed people who lived in Harlem in the 1970s and knew of or about Lucas. Of course, I interviewed Ike Atkinson and the people associated with him.

MS: Did you read Lucas’s bio, Original Gangster?

RC: Yes, I did. I heard through the grapevine that Lucas was “going to tell all” about his relationship with Ike in his autobiography. I knew that Lucas has been caught in lies about his life story since the movie American Gangster appeared, and I was curious to see what he had to say.

MS: What’s your opinion of the bio?

RC: The book is a kind of a bad joke perpetrated on the reading public. Lucas doesn’t even mention Ike anywhere in the book. Could you believe that? Now instead of going to meet Ike in Bangkok, as he earlier claimed, he goes alone and manages to arrange a major drug buy. Lucas is publishing’s version of the reincarnated. He now has three life stories: the New York magazine article that got Lucas the movie, the movie itself and now the autobiography. He has had three shots at re-inventing himself.

MS: No doubt you saw the movie American Gangster starring Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas. What was your impression of the movie?

RC: Well if I didn’t know anything about Frank Lucas’s life, I might have liked the movie, although I still would have noticed the holes in the story line. For example, in the movie Lucas has a cousin in Bangkok who has a source to the Golden Triangle and the cousin just gives up that source to Lucas, no questions asked. In real life, what dealer would do that? Also, Lucas goes to the heart of the Golden Triangle to meet the source. What big time drug dealer would do that? At the climax of the movie, heroin shows up in coffins in New Jersey but there is no rational explanation how Lucas could have done that without any military contacts. But Hollywood doesn’t care. Their justification is “Well, it’s BASED on a true story.” Using that anemic claim as a cover, the movie helped create the myth of Frank Lucas and the public buys it. Meanwhile American Gangster hauls in more than $300 million.

MS: In the movie, they tried to portray Lucas as a good snitch who only turned in corrupt cops. Lucas tries to defend his snitching along the same lines in his book Original Gangster. He rationalizes, “I could take them down. I had never been one to drop dime on anyone. It just wasn’t how I got down and it had never been necessary. But the cops I’d dealt with were a different story. There was no honor among thieves the way there is among drug dealers.” What’s your take on this?

RC: This is a real joke. It’s true there was serious corruption in law enforcement in New York in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. But Lucas had nothing to do with helping to turn in dirty cops. My research revealed that Lucas did not turn in one cop. He helped turn in only his fellow gangsters. I interviewed retired DEA agents who handled Lucas after he was arrested and became a snitch. He was great a snitch. He was able to operate behind bars, and he convinced people to do things that implicated them in drug deals. Lucas has reinvented himself as a snitch to retain his credibility on the street as some kind of big bad gangster. The DEA has sued Lucas over his claims and lies about his snitching. Notice how Lucas toned down his snitching claims in his autobiography. He listened to his lawyers.

MS: While reading the Lucas autobiography, I was struck by the fact that he uses few real names and no dates. There’s also a great deal of generalizing and important events are missing. Why do you think he did that?

RC: He doesn’t mention dates and real names, even when there is no reason to do it. Very smart. By doing that, he doesn’t leave a concrete trail to follow so someone could check out the credibility of his story. He changed names when there was reason to do it. For example, he calls Ike’s Jack American Star Bar “Ritchie’s place.” Why? It helps him cut Ike out of the story. There are plenty of other examples, but you get the picture.

MS: Any truth to the conspiracy theory that heroin was shipped from Vietnam using the “cavers of dead servicemen” That was the climax of the movie.

RC: None whatsoever. I describe the conspiracy theory as the biggest hoax in the history of the international drug trade. In researching my book Sergeant Smack, I interviewed retired customs officials and DEA agents as well as journalists, government officials and morticians and others who somehow were involved with the story. No one has ever been arrested or convicted because they were involved in the conspiracy. No heroin was ever found in the coffins and dead bodies of American servicemen who died in Vietnam. No one has ever blabbed or bragged about it. No government investigation has found anything. Nothing, nothing. There is more credence in the conspiracy theory that Elvis is not dead; aliens kidnapped him.

MS: Okay, Ron. As you see it, what is the truth about Frank Lucas?

RC: Well, he did exist (laughs). Seriously, he was a drug dealer operating in the New York-New Jersey area in the 1970s. He had a significant operation but it was not the biggest, as Lucas and Hollywood claims. He got his dope primarily from La Cosa Nostra, not from Southeast Asia. His claim that he moved drugs via a cadaver-heroin connection is a lie. He was a snitch but he turned in his fellow gangsters, not cops.

MS: What was Frank Lucas’s true relationship with Ike Atkinson?

RC: The two did have a working relationship in the drug trade, but Ike was the main man and Ike Atkinson, not Lucas, pioneered the Asian heroin connection. Lucas claims that Ike helped him move drugs via the cadaver-heroin connection. This is a lie because the connection is a hoax as I show in my book, Sergeant Smack.

MS: I’ve actually done considerable research of my own on this next question. Why do you think Lucas has gotten such a free ride with the media when it appears no one but you have really checked out his story?

RC: You’ve answered the question. The legend of Lucas, American Gangster, is a myth that the media and lazy journalism has helped create. I am the only journalist who has checked out his story. This is remarkable considering all the holes and contradictions in his story. It’s a sad reflection on the state of the media today.

MS: Ron, thanks for a thought-provoking and most interesting interview. We will gladly publish a response from Frank Lucas or anyone else.


Page down to read Mob Speak’s candid interview with Ike Atkinson on June 28, 2010 on his bio entitled Sergeant Smack.

Be sure to check out, The Trafficantes—Godfathers from Tampa, Ron Chepesiuk’s latest book available online and in bookstores.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Memorable Poker Quotes

Years ago, Slick considered writing a book on poker tips, but there were already too many books on the market with the same theme. Here are some of the quotes he found:

If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half-hour at the table, it’s you.

Anthony Holden

Changing the cards in a poker game is about as useful as changing the air in your tires.

Slick Hanner

On feeling pity for your friends when they’re losing: Ah like you, son. But I’ll put a rattlesnake in your pocket and ask you for a match.

Amarillo Slim

Show me a man who is a good loser, and I’ll bet that man is playing poker with his boss.


It’s not how much luck you have, its’ when you have it.

Bat Masterson

In poker there’s a time to pass and a time to bluff. The trick is to figure out which.

Allen Dowling

Pappy once told me—If you ever get into a game with men who play as smart as you do...quit. That’s gamblin’.


Whether he likes it or not, a man’s character is stripped bare at the poker table. If the other players read him better than he does, he has only himself to blame. Unless he is both able and prepared to see himself as others do—flaws and all—he will be a loser in cards as in life.

Anthony Holden

The most common mistake in history is underestimating your opponent...Happens every day in poker.

Gen. David Shoup

And here are a few more from Mob Writer...

James Bond: [After Bond has just lost his 10 million in the game, he tells the bartender] Vodka-martini.
Bartender: Shaken or stirred?
James Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?

from the movie Casino Royale

“I will stop tomorrow, I tell myself. Or Monday. Or the first of month. Right after I win back what they owe me”

Celebrity Interviewer & ex-poker addict,

Martha Frankel

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 23nd in Series

The Strip’s Glory Days

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, before casino property values skyrocketed, casinos had long driveways winding to their entrances. You couldn’t walk from casino to casino unless you didn’t mind the boring sight of desert vegetation and emptying sand from your shoes. Neon signs spelled out casino names in what was then considered a blinding display. It would pale next to the mega-wattage illuminating today’s casinos with their state-of-the-art LED marquees.

To take better advantage of the valuable land, casinos moved closer to the street and installed sidewalks. Now if you walk the five miles from one end of the Strip to the other, you better pack a lunch and water, unless you care to spend a near fortune on Strip food and drinks. If you’re driving, watch out for the swarms of pedestrians. Some casinos hire guards just to stop pedestrians so a car can turn into a casino drive.

There’s plenty to gawk at including the Venetian’s gondolas, an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower, the reclining Sphinx and much more. If you’re a people watcher, be prepared for some odd sightings. Tourists have thrown off their elegant wear in exchange for baggy shorts, flip flops and tank tops. And the noise level can make your ears ring.

As one Las Vegan said, “Now, instead of going for the high-roller with a million bucks, we go after a million people with a buck.”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


If you missed the TRUE CRIME website on theThiefTrueStory links page, be sure to check it out. Here's an excerpt from the site:

"Crimeculture was created in Summer 2002 by Lee Horsley and Kate Horsley. The site now gets something like five million hits a year from all over the world, and has published several dozen essays on crime fiction, crime films and representations of criminality."

And here's the link: