Big Cadillacs. Diamond pinky rings. A $50,000 full-length chinchilla fur coat. This was the life that Frank Lucas was living in the 1970s Harlem. He had his dealers in the streets to sell the heroin he smuggled in from Southeast Asia at exactly 4pm, because that’s when the NYPD had a shift change. By 9pm, his dealers would be sold out, and the money would pour in. At his peak, Lucas claimed to have amassed over $50 million which he kept in Cayman Islands bank accounts. To avoid detection, he bought many cash businesses like dry cleaners and gas stations to launder some of the “dirty” money he was making. Eventually, the law would catch up with Frank Lucas, and he was sentenced to 70 years in prison. Less than a year later, he would become an informant and “rat” on a number of mafia members, crooked police officers, and even his own heroin supplier overseas. His 70-year sentence was reduced to 15 years to which he would only serve six years. He would then return to Harlem where he saw the damage that the heroin he sold did to his community. Lucas then spent much of his remaining years trying to rebuild the community that he had a large piece in decimating.
The original Cocaine Godmother, Griselda Blanco was born in Colombia and committed her first murder at 11-years-old - when the parents of a 10-year-old boy she allegedly kidnapped wouldn’t pay her ransom. She survived on the streets of Medellin as a pick-pocket and prostitute, until her first husband (whom she eventually killed) introduced her to organized crime in the form of human trafficking. Blanco’s second husband introduced her to the cocaine trade and, in the early 1970s, they moved their business to Queens, NY where it flourished. In 1975, an NYPD/DEA sting operation foiled their operation, which sent the pair fleeing back to Colombia. There, they continued their business together, until a dispute over missing millions led Blanco to kill her second husband, leaving her as the sole queenpin of her drug empire. She continued to send cocaine to the US from Colombia for a few years before she married for a third time and moved to south Florida in the late 1970s. Her unrelenting quest to control all of Miami's cocaine business led to constant violence between Blanco’s gang and rival gangs throughout the early 1980's ultimately leading to multiple assassination attempts on her life. Blanco fled to California and kept a low profile until the DEA finally caught up with her. Even after her sentencing, she continued to run her cocaine business while incarcerated. In 2004, Blanco was deported back to Colombia where she was assassinated in 2012.
“FREEWAY” RICK ROSS
“Freeway” Rick Ross started out as a modest drug dealer selling cocaine to friends and neighbors. Wanting to go into business for themselves, Ross and a friend used 3 grams of cocaine to start an empire. They found their own supplier and built their own client base. With crack cocaine becoming the most prominent drug in inner cities, Ross engineered a ready-to-smoke freebase cocaine called “Ready Rock.” Production grew to include multiple locations, and at the height of his success, he reportedly was able to sell around $2 million of crack a day! Ross found a Nicaraguan drug supplier who made sure that there was more than enough cocaine to keep clients satisfied. Within a few years, Ross was the head of Los Angeles's first cocaine ring. When the L.A. market became saturated, he expanded to other cities in the Midwest and eventually to the east coast. In an attempt to launder money from his criminal enterprises, he bought an auto parts store and a hotel near the Harbor Freeway. This hotel would become a safe spot for Ross and others in the trade to have "safe" meetings. This lead to his nickname, “Freeway Rick.” Feeling that the Feds were closing in on him, Ross and his girlfriend headed to Cincinnati in an attempt to hide out. But Ross would eventually give in to temptation and begin selling crack there as well. As word got out to local police, Ross scaled back his empire and began to relinquish control to smaller dealers in hopes he could disappear quietly into retirement. But he wouldn’t be so lucky. Federal agents had intercepted a drug shipment, and the dealer apprehended betrayed Ross by providing details to the authorities. Ross would head back to Los Angeles where he was eventually arrested. He was sentenced to ten years but was granted early release after testifying in a federal case. He was also allowed to keep around $2 million of illegally obtained money and property. Then out on parole, Ross decided to stay clean. He did serve more time for previous drug offenses but has since stayed clean.
Thelma Wright was married to Jackie Wright, a significant player in the Philadelphia drug scene. In 1986, Jackie's body was found rolled up in a rug with a bullet wound to his head. Thelma Wright needed a way to provide for their son so she chose to continue making money by running the family business and transporting cocaine and heroin between Los Angeles and Philadelphia. At one time, it was estimated that Wright was making about $400,000 a month! By the early 1990s, after a few close-calls with bullets and law enforcement, Wright left the drug game entirely. In 2011, she came clean and published a memoir, “With Eyes From Both Sides - Living My Life In and Out of the Game.” Wright is also a motivational speaker, urging others to not follow in her footsteps and to avoid the life of a queenpin.
PABLO ACOSTA VILLAREAL
Pablo Acosta Villarreal was a drug smuggler who controlled a large portion of the Texas/Mexican border. Acosta mainly smuggled marijuana and heroin into the United States but later smuggled cocaine, as Colombian suppliers wanted to use his drug routes to get their product to the United States. At it’s high-point, it is thought Acosta Villarreal smuggled about 60 tons of cocaine a year for the Colombians. By paying off state and federal Mexican police, he was able to procure a landing area for planes once a month that brought in 5 tons of cocaine from Colombia. Acosta Villarreal died in April 1987 during a cross-border raid by Mexican Federal Police and assisted by the FBI.