Sunday, June 27, 2010

Who Is The Real ‘American Gangster’?

Who Is The Real ‘American Gangster’?
June 22, 2010, 7:00 PM ET
The Wall Street Journal
'Speak Easy' 

In 2007, actor Denzel Washington starred in “American Gangster,” a fictionalized film based on the career of real-life convicted Harlem drug dealer Frank Lucas. But Ike Atkinson, another convicted drug dealer, says he’s the real “American Gangster” and that he was behind some of the criminal innovations and successes attributed to Lucas, including creating a drug pipeline between the U.S. and Thailand.

“I might be the most successful drug dealer in the history of the United States,” said Atkinson, who estimates that during the 1970s his drug operation smuggled nearly a ton of heroin into places like New York City, New Jersey and Baltimore, Md. He is the subject of a new biography out this week.

However, Lucas, who released a memoir called “Original Gangster” earlier this month, says Atkinson’s claim to be the bigger crime figure is bogus.

“He’s full of crap,” said Lucas. “He’s just using my name to try and get publicity for his book. I was major. Check with DEA. They’ll tell you about what I did.”

Former Special Agent in Charge Lewis Rice, who worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York division from 1974 to 2001, says he prepared Lucas to testify against Harlem drug dealers and that Atkinson was a major dealer.

“He wasn’t as well known and as flashy as Frank Lucas, but he was the boss no question,” according to Rice, who also said that Lucas never went on the record saying that he smuggled drugs from Thailand.

A retired master sergeant in the U.S. Army, Atkinson, 84, was recently released from federal prison after serving 32 years in prison for his drug offenses.

In his biography “Sergeant Smack: The Legendary Lives and Times of Ike Atkinson, Kingpin, and His Band of Brothers,” released yesterday, crime author Ron Chepesiuk details how Atkinson smuggled heroin from Southeast Asia into the United States and became a leader in the international drug trade.

Atkinson, who currently lives in Raleigh, N.C., talked to the Wall Street Journal about his drug enterprise, incarceration and “American Gangster.”

The Wall Street Journal: Why did you agree to let Ron Chepesiuk tell your story?

Ike Atkinson: At first, I thought about the embarrassment. I wasn’t interested in reviving things that happened thirty something years ago. When Ron told me about Frank Lucas taking credit for things I had done that weren’t true, I became interested.

Frank Lucas has said he’s responsible for smuggling heroin using the coffins of dead American servicemen. Is that not true?

He’s a damn lie. None of that is true. He had no part in any smuggling of no drugs from Thailand. This guy got his drugs from me and he and his lawyers made up this story.

How much money did you make while operating your drug business?

I never sat down to count my money. I was worth maybe 30, 40 million dollars. But it’s all drifted away. Now I have a pension from the army and I have my social security.

How did you get through 32 years in prison?

I had celebrity status. People would say, ‘We have never seen a black guy smuggle drugs like you have.’

When did you decide to stop smuggling drugs? Was it the incident in prison when you were busted for trying to revive your drug network and given an even longer sentence?

I caught two importation cases while I was down. I was going backwards so I said ‘I’m finished with drugs.’ After that, I didn’t get into any drugs.

What did you do while you were incarcerated?

Every time the doors opened, I was on the yard walking and occasionally I worked in the chapel. I didn’t do anything constructive. I just did my time, read a lot and called my friends that I had before I went to jail.

Do you think your book glamorizes the drug trade?

I don’t think it does. I think what it really does is challenge Frank Lucas and the “American Gangster” movie. I paint myself as no angel. I just don’t want Frank Lucas taking credit for what I did. I hope that’s the main thing that our book clears up.

Do you ever think about the impact that the drugs you dealt have had on society, especially within the Black community?

I have a reverend friend and his wife and son come to see me. Every time I see them, I see the son they’re raising and I think about the drugs I’ve sold and how it could end up in his hands. I don’t feel good about it at all.

Do you have any regrets?

I wish I had never got in the drug business. I was too successful. If I had to do it again, I would do a lot of things different. I have asked the Lord to forgive me and I think he’s heard me. I live with my [conscience].

What do you do with your time now?

I have a soap opera I like, ‘The Young and the Restless.’ I watch that and the news with Katie Couric.

See Also...
W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Radio: Chopping It Up With Sergeant Smack: The Real American Gangster 

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