Monday, February 27, 2012

My Crime Beat Column: American Con: The Vietnam Heroin Cadaver Connection Never Happened

In American Gangster, a film that claims to be based on the true story of Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas, heroin is smuggled into America in the coffins of soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.

This is one of the more outrageous claims Lucas made to the gullible film makers and various journalists.

And in fact Lucas testified against his criminal family members, and not, as the film claims, crooked law enforcement officers.

Considering all the phony stories Lukas sold film makers and reporters, the film about Lukas should have been titled American Con rather than American Gangster.

In the latest issue of Vietnam magazine, retired DEA Special Agent Charles H. Lutz debunks Lukas' story about a "Cadaver Connection."

"I should know," Lutz writes in Vietnam magazine. "I was one of the criminal investigators who helped end the so-called Asian connection."

Lutz writes that Leslie "Ike" Atkinson, a former soldier who remained in Southeast Asia after leaving the Army, was hardly Lucas' lackey, as he was portrayed in the film. Atkinson, called "the fat man,' smuggled heroin in duffel bags and later in the false bottom of "AWOL" bags, the carry on bag servicemen always carried when traveling.

An army inspector later discovered heroin hidden in furniture, but never in coffins of dead servicemen.

According to Lutz's piece, Atkinson told investigative journalist Ron Chepesiuk that Lucas' claim of a cadaver connection was "the big lie...the biggest hoax ever perpetuated.'

Chepesiuk later wrote a book called Sergeant Smack: The Legendary Lives and Times of Ike Atkinson, Kingpin, and His Band of Brothers. 

The film American Gangster also pumps up the accomplishments of the detective who investigated Lucas and there is a crooked detective character with the street name "Babyface," which is clearly based on Robert Leuci, the NYPD detective whose life was portrayed in the outstanding book and film Prince of the City.

I interviewed Leuci a while back and he told me that he hated the film. He said he had nothing to do with Frank Lucas, as he worked in Brooklyn, not Harlem.

"The people who wrote that spent no time doing any kind of research on it," Leuci said. "They had this great story and they turned it into a movie. This guy Jacobson, who wrote the magazine piece and wrote the screenplay, is totally full of shit."
Leuci said Lucas used his name because he was well known due to Prince of the City. He said his name is on the card the detective in the film gives to Lucas.
" I had federal protection during that time... I was working for Giuliani at the Southern District of New York, and if any of that was true, Giuliani would have crucified me. Those guys should be ashamed of themselves. It’s all bullshit."
One can say that American Gangster is fiction, only a movie. But the film, the film makers and Lucas all claim the film is based on Lucas' true story.

The idea of smuggling drugs in the coffins of slain servicemen is offensive to military people, the families of the slain servicemen, veterans, and I hope, any decent person. Thankfully, this never happened.

Despite the claims made in the film and by Lucas and the film makers in interviews, American Gangster is pure fiction.

Note: You can read the full Leuci interview via the below link:

You can also read the story in Vietnam magazine via the below link:


  1. I haven't seen American Gangster, but you may want to do your own research about drugs being smuggled in bodies. Adding Vietnam to your searches may bring up some more results.

  2. I served in Vietnam and over the years I've interviewed DEA, NCIS, other federal law enforcement officers, and NYPD narcotics detectives about this awful myth.

    And as noted above, Charles H.Lutz debunks the cadaver connection and he was one of the investigators who helped end the so-called "Asian Connection."

    This bullshit cadaver connection story is an insult to all Vietnam veterans.