The daughter of American Gangster Frank Lucas speaks

 Francine Lucas-Sinclair spent part of her childhood being raised by her grandparents, while her parents served time in prison. She is the daughter of Frank Lucas, the drug lord depicted in the 2007 film American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

francine2

AMBLER — Francine Lucas-Sinclair spent part of her childhood being raised by her grandparents, while her parents served time in prison. She is the daughter of Frank Lucas, the drug lord depicted in the 2007 film American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

Through her experiences as a child with an incarcerated parent, Sinclair was led to establish Yellow Brick Roads, a program that helps children with parents in prison. On Feb. 19 at the Ambler Campus, Lucas-Sinclair presented, “My Father: The American Gangster,” an insight into her life as a child and how it led up to the birth of a new organization for children like herself.

“My father built a heroin pipeline from Southeast Asia to New York and paid soldiers in Asia to smuggle drugs over here and sold it for cheap. My dad looked at this as a business opportunity at the time,” Lucas-Sinclair said.

During the era of the Vietnam War, soldiers used drugs in Vietnam and eventually became addicted to it, Sinclair said. Lucas made $1 million a day from his business.

“We lived in New Jersey where [there] are beautiful houses, picket fences, [and] manicured lawns, but we lived a normal life,” Lucas-Sinclair said. “We took exotic trips, but it wasn’t like people think that he spent enormous amounts of money on extravagant things. Our house was always cheerful – it had lots of friends and family.”

Even with her enjoyable childhood, Lucas-Sinclair was too young to understand what he father did for a living. “As a little girl, I had a loving father and loving mother, all the toys I could ever want, but what I didn’t know what my dad was doing,” she said. “When you’re living on borrowed time, sooner or later it’s going to catch up to you. We were living at the expense of others.“

In 1975, Lucas went down with his business at the end of the war. Lucas-Sinclair was three years old when her father was arrested for drugs.

“The federal authorities came charging into our house,” she said. “I do remember that it was like a stampede of people coming through the door. I remember just screaming, and there was a lot of screaming in our house. I remember being thrown on the floor. It was traumatizing.”

After the arrest, life for Lucas-Sinclair was different.

She visited her dad every day in jail but didn’t understand where he was. Sometimes she believed he was in a fish tank when she talked to him through glass, she said. For her, it was a very confusing time. Her father was sentenced to 70 years in prison, and his family was placed in the witness protection program and moved to Albuquerque, N.M.

After living in New Mexico for three years and not growing accustomed to the lifestyle, they got out of the witness protection program and moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with Lucas-Sinclair’s grandparents.

Frank Lucas was released from prison within six years and had a difficult time obtaining work. Lucas went back to the drug business and was caught a second time, but this time, his wife was also involved. He went back for eight years, while his wife went for five years. Lucas-Sinclair went back to San Juan to live with her grandparents.

“They taught me that I have to determine what my life would be,” Lucas-Sinclair said.

When released, her mother enrolled Lucas-Sinclair in the girl scouts.

“I had to take responsibility for my actions. I couldn’t act up,” Lucas-Sinclair said.

Her parents taught Lucas-Sinclair that their choices did not have to determine her choices. From her experiences as a child with incarcerated parents, she decided to start Yellow Brick Roads, formed to help children who, like herself, who have incarcerated parents.

“I think it’s an excellent program,” said Michelle Darby, Kensington Annex Head Start teacher. “Having a support system like this makes them [feel] accepted. It’s more prevalent because there are just so much more parents [being incarcerated] because of drug offenses.”

Sophomore Nick Prince also saw the benefits of the program.

“I felt good to witness the beginnings of a foundation that will eventually benefit a lot of people,” Prince said. “I see it taking more kids away from the streets. I think there needs to be a program recognizing a program where they can relate to.” Sarada Jailal can be reached at

Written By: sjailal@temple.edu.

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Dorothy Fiorenza: The Things We Do For Love

The New York Daily News called her a “brainy beautician” when Dorothy Fiorenza took the stand in 1999 as the key witness against her former lover, Colombo family boss Andrew Russo, but the cosmetologist-turned-lawyer-turned-government informant sure didn’t act too smart by getting romantically involved with Russo, angering the boss by marrying a dying Colombo family soldier, and helping to obstruct justice along the way. Fiorenza helped turn a hum-drum mob trial into a soap opera after she agreed to cooperate with the government in order to get a lighter sentence for her husband, Lawrence “Larry Tattoo” Fiorenza, who at the time of the Russo trial was serving a life sentence and was terminally ill with AIDS and cirrhosis of the liver.

Appearing on the witness stand with newly dyed platinum tresses, Fiorenza told the federal court how she had used her lawyer status to pass communiqus between Russo and his son, Joseph “Jo Jo” Russo. It was an alternate juror in Jo Jo’s trial that had been recognized by another Russo mistress. The Colombo family then hired a private investigator to track down the alternate, but Jo Jo ended up taking the fall anyway. The juror reported the attempt to the judge in Jo Jo’s case, who referred it to the Justice Department. The FBI began an investigation and eventually was able to build a case against Russo.

Andrew Russo
Andrew Russo

Over three days of testimony, with a different exotic hairstyle each day that garnered as much press as her devastating testimony, Fiorenza recalled how she met Russo while working at a New York barbershop and was invited to the mob boss’s Christmas party in 1995 while her first marriage was collapsing.

The next day, according to court records, Russo’s nephew told Fiorenza his uncle thought she “was the best thing since sliced bread.” The 32-year-old law student and the 60-something mobster hit it off immediately and began an affair.

Russo took Fiorenza to dinner at Elaine’s and to see “Phantom of the Opera.” She told the court how he often complained about the “heat” he was under from police who wanted to see that he was sent back to prison where he had just finished serving an eight-year stretch. Swept up in the romantic notion of being a mafia goumada, or girlfriend, Fiorenza became even more valuable to Russo after she passed the New York State Bar Exam and was able to pass almost unobstructed through security at the�MetropolitanCorrectionsCenter, where Jo Jo was being held.

Speaking with Jo Jo in carefully scripted conversations that prosecutors alleged were filled with secret messages, Dorothy later claimed she had no idea that her discussions were actually bits of coded advice from father to son.

The relationship soured when Dorothy realized that Russo was interested in a monogamous relationship  on her part  while he played the field and remained strangely loyal to his wife. Along the way, Fiorenza met Teresa Castronova, the “other” other woman who had ID’d the alternate juror in Jo Jo’s trial. Teresa was hiding out at an upstate New York horse farm while the FBI tried to find her so she could explain the jury tampering attempt. In the elder Russo’s trial, Fiorenza admitted that she knew she was obstructing justice by not going to authorities with Teresa’s location.

“He wanted to be with me but not exclusively,” a weeping Fiorenza testified. “He was obligated to other people — to his wife as well.”

“And you wanted him exclusively for you?” Russo’s lawyer asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “There were other people around who he was involved with and it was getting crazy.”

The one-way monogamy requirement was troubling to the self-described “mob groupie” who had met Larry Tattoo while visiting Jo Jo in the MCC. When she announced to Andrew Russo that she was ending the relationship to marry Larry, the boss was furious, she testified.

Russo was infuriated that she was involved with a lower-ranking mobster, she testified, adding that a friend of Russo’s told her that many members of the�Colombo family feared both she and Larry Tattoo would “sing and fly.”

In the end, that’s almost what happened. When the appeals she filed on Larry’s behalf went nowhere, afraid for her life and concerned that her new husband was going to die behind bars, Dorothy went to federal prosecutors and spilled her guts.

“We went to the government for assistance, security, for our safety,” she said.

Prior to taking the stand in the elder Russo’s trial, Fiorenza pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for her role in the scheme.

Like so many other women who are suckered by the romance of the mob, Dorothy paid a very high price for her blind love. She lost her license to practice law and was portrayed by the defense in Russo’s case as a mentally unbalanced and “troubled” woman whose life went downhill when she married a convicted murderer.

Shortly after Russo was convicted, Larry Tattoos and Dorothy Fiorenza entered the federal witness relocation program. By 2001, they had separated and Dorothy had applied for reinstatement to the New York Bar, claiming she had been mentally ill with bipolar disorder when she pleaded guilty to obstruction. The court turned down her request.

The Mob and Mistresses

Image and reputation are everything to mobsters. Wiseguys carefully cultivate the media-driven images of Robin Hood-like gentleman bandits who carefully separate business and pleasure. Over time, they have learned that the perception of being violent is just as effective as violence itself. The public was also sold a bill of goods by Hollywood (an industry thoroughly infiltrated by the mob) that mobsters resorted to violence on a limited scale, operated under a “code of honor” that demanded loyalty, and expected members to treat women with respect. A man who crossed the mob could expect retribution, but his woman was off-limits.

But perception and reality as far as the mob is concerned are light-years apart. Tough legal sanctions and increased backstabbing have pushed the code aside in favor of an “every man for himself” mentality, and a wiseguy knows that his friends in the rackets are just as likely as his enemies to be the ones who take him down. The same applies to the way women of the mob are treated. The hands-off policy is gone and a woman who is perceived as a threat because of what she knows is just as likely as her lover to end up dead.

It’s true that there were and still are a number of prudish men in organized crime. Some old-timers are more interested in the rackets than they are in the idea of mistresses and nightclubs. Others take their marriage vows seriously and don’t need to look outside the home for female companionship. Still others view promiscuous women with contempt and want nothing to do with them. In the early days of Prohibition and organized crime, men like Johnny Torrio and Dion O’Banion were known for their disdain of the molls who have always been attracted to mobsters. Torrio ran the prostitution racket in�Chicago for years, but was widely known not to partake of the fare himself. O’Banion was a one-woman man whose flower shop and home life were just as important as his bootlegging business.

Other mobsters took the opposite view. Both Willie Moretti and Al Capone were rendered near imbeciles by the ravages of untreated syphilis, caught from the myriad prostitutes who serviced them. Lucky Luciano, whose connection to the New York prostitution racket was widely overblown by Thomas Dewey in his no-holds-barred prosecution of the capo di tutti capi, claimed he deliberately caught (and received treatment for) a venereal disease from a hooker to get out of the draft for World War I.

Still others lived privately one way and acted differently in public. Sam Giancana carried on with Judith Campbell Exner and Phyllis Maguire, but killed a man for dishonoring his daughter. Moretti sent a telegram to his friend, Frank Sinatra, when he learned the singer was dating Ava Gardner and planning a divorce from his wife. Moretti’s message to Frank was that he was saddened to learn of Sinatra’s philandering and he urged him to remember his “darling wife and children.”

But even these old-fashioned types know that sometimes a mob wife or girlfriend is dangerous and needs to be permanently silenced. It’s always been that way and as long as there is organized crime, it always will be that way.

One of the most blatant examples of the way women are treated by mobsters is the story of 19-year-old Cherie Golden, a�New York woman who made the mistake of working a little too closely with her car thief boyfriend, John Quinn. They both ended up dead after crossing the bloodthirsty and ruthless Roy DeMeo and Nino Gaggi, who objected to Quinn’s success in competing with their own stolen car ring. In Gaggi’s 1985 murder and racketeering trial, star prosecution witness Dominick Montiglio and seven other witnesses testified about how Quinn was marked for death by the Gaggi faction of the Gambino family after he was summoned before a Long Island grand jury.

Convicted car thief Joseph Bennett testified that he was contacted about a week before July 20, 1977, the day Quinn’s body was found in a desolate part of Staten Island. The Gaggi crew wanted Bennett to help them take out his cousin.

The price for setting up Quinn would be $20,000, he testified that he was told, if he could lure Golden as well. When asked by prosecutors why the pair had to die, Bennett explained in a matter-of-fact way that there was reason to suspect Quinn was cooperating with authorities.

“John had gone before a Nassau�County grand jury and wasn’t in jail,” said Bennett. “The rule of thumb is that if you weren’t in jail you had talked.”

Quinn and Golden were shot dead and while Quinn was found dumped near the Fresh Kills landfill, dressed in pajamas with his hands tied behind his back, Golden’s half-nude body was found jammed underneath the dashboard of a stolen Lincoln Continental near Coney Island�in Brooklyn. She had not been sexually assaulted, but testimony revealed that she had been stripped after death to make police think it had been a sexual homicide and thus not likely to be mob connected.

Montiglio testified that Golden’s murder had disturbed Gambino family boss Paul Castellano.

“My uncle [Nino Gaggi] was a little perturbed about the girl getting killed,” Montiglio said. “Mr. Castellano asked my uncle why this girl Cherie was killed. My uncle told him she was part of the operation with Quinn and something about him going to the law and he had to be taken care of.”

Written By: Mark Gribben

Gangster’s Wives: Mary Evelyn “Billie” Frechette

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Mary Evelyn Frechette, also known as Billie, met John Dillinger in 1933. She experienced her first taste of her boyfriend’s criminal life that same year. As the couple was leaving a Chicago doctor’s office, a shootout ensued. Later that year, Dillinger’s buddy killed a police sergeant; forcing the gang to leave the city. Evelyn left with them and traveled through Florida, to Arizona; where they were both arrested. Evelyn was released because she couldn’t be identified under the alias she used. Evelyn was present during many of the crimes committed by the man declared Public Enemy #1; including the ST. Paul shootout that took place after his escape from jail.

Billie was arrested for harboring the fugitive. Dillinger watched her arrest from a about a block away.  She was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison; she served two years and a day. After her release, she traveled with John’s family and told stories of her life. She would later settle down again and live the rest of her days out on the Indian Reservation on which she was born.

Francine Lucas: “My Dad The Drug Lord”

Francine with father Frank Lucas

Francine with father Frank Lucas

As a toddler, Francine Lucas had a Fendi fur coat, a $10,000 FAO Schwarz train set and more toys than she could play with. She also had dozens of cuddly toy dogs and teddy bears that were stuffed with cash, as were the washer and dryer in her family’s big house in Teaneck, New Jersey. The walls, too, were literally lined with money; there was simply too much to hide under the mattress.

Little Francine had no idea how rich her family was or where the wealth came from. All she knew was that her tall, good-looking father worked nights in “the candy business” and arrived home each morning carrying satchels bulging with cash. Coming through the front door, Frank Lucas would lift his daughter high in the air and coo, “Daddy’s baby.” Then he’d shower, change and cook breakfast while Francine played near him in the kitchen.

Frank was at the stove frying eggs and bacon, with three-year-old Francine at his feet, when federal agents burst into the house one morning in January 1975. She felt comforted for a moment as her dad swept her up and pressed her to his chest, then terrified as strange arms ripped her from him and threw her to the carpet. She witnessed the rest of the chaos from ground level—a rush of shoes, guns and her mother’s screams as her father was taken away by police; he was eventually sentenced to 70 years in prison.

Frank Lucas was not, of course, in the candy business. In the early seventies, he and his gang, The Country Boys, controlled much of the heroin coming from Southeast Asia into the New York area. It was Frank who came up with the idea of shipping dope back from Vietnam in the caskets of dead American soldiers. Shortly before the raid on his house, federal agents seized about $4 million in drugs from just one of his several “stash houses” in Newark, New Jersey. Frank later boasted in a magazine article that he’d even killed a man (something he’s since denied).

For Francine, her dad’s arrest would mark the start of a 30-year odyssey that took her from New Mexico to Puerto Rico to Las Vegas and finally Atlanta. Through it all, she would learn to conceal who she was and what she was thinking, to wrap herself so tightly in an aura of middle-class respectability that no one ever guessed her secret.

But this month brings the release of a movie about Frank Lucas—American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington as Frank, and Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts, the prosecutor who brought him down—and Francine can no longer hide. She figures that the people who know her only as a mortgage broker and suburban mom will put two and two together. So she’s taking control and telling her story in these pages. In doing so, she hopes to shed light on the agony of the 2.4 million American kids who have a father or mother in jail.

Written By  Nell Bernstein

Black Gangster’s Wives: Mayme Hatcher Johnson

Mayme Hatcher was born in North Carolina in 1914. At the age of 24, she moved to NYC and got a job as a waitress. Ten years after her arrival in the city, she met and married Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. As the wife of one of Harlem’s most infamous gangster’s, Mayme was treated with the utmost respect anywhere she went. Her husband spoiled her with the finest things that money could by. However, there was a downside. There were women all over the city who wanted Bumpy for them self, she was constantly accosted by them.

Mayme never took part in any of her husband’s criminal activities. By all reports, she was as classy as they came. She carried herself with respect and never let her husband’s life interfere with hers. However, she stood by him; even when his criminal life had him arrested over 40 times and sentenced to 10 years in Alcatraz.

Mayme Thatcher Johnson passed away in 2009, at the age of 94. Just a year prior to her death, she finished the biography about her husband that she had wanted to put out for most of her life. She refused to leave the world without people knowing who her husband truly was.