How to Become a Mob Boss (2023) s01e02 Episode Script

Build a Better Operation

[narrator] By following
the playbook's opening lessons,
you've maneuvered your way
from the ground floor
to the mob boss penthouse.
Now it's time to focus
on your bottom line.
Vice is commerce.
It's not about morally,
"Oh, it's wrong to deal drugs."
Morally, "It's wrong to run a brothel."
It's business.
It's about grabbing money with both fists.
Reaching your full earning potential
won't happen on its own.
It is absolutely critical
that a mob boss has a business plan.
If there's no plan,
the structure will fall.
[narrator] But by putting your intellect
to work along with your muscle,
you can outfox your competition
and become
the underworld CEO of your dreams.
Just like this guy.
Harlem's superfly heroin tycoon,
Frank Lucas.
Lucas's revolutionary strategy
upended New York's drug trade
creating his own supply chain
that banked more
than a million dollars a day.
I used to sleep in the bed, in the cold.
And then I was
in the big time, and I started rolling.
[narrator] Follow Frank's
cutting-edge business plan,
and you, too, can make sure
that your crimes do pay.
[funk bass playing]
[narrator] Frank Lucas built
a multimillion-dollar
international heroin empire
from the ground up.
All before his 40th birthday.
His goal was to make money selling heroin,
and so he made
a lot of money selling heroin.
[narrator] But before you follow
Frank's path to the C-suite,
here's what you can learn from his rise.
Frank Lucas was born
in rural North Carolina
during the Great Depression.
We have no, no opportunity there
in, uh, segregated North Carolina.
You won't make a good life for yourself
and be able to take care of your family.
He did see his cousin murdered
by a member of the KKK.
They came and blew his brains out.
They stuck the shotgun in his mouth,
pulled the trigger.
Sometimes certain things
happen in your life, and it change it.
You know, it change it.
And he left, and he came to New York.
[Richie] Now, the problem was
he was illiterate.
He couldn't get a job
delivering a newspaper.
He couldn't do anything.
The only way he could survive
was to get into something illegal
where he would be accepted.
So he started selling drugs.
[Ezell] Bumpy Johnson was the baddest
Black gangster probably ever lived.
Bumpy was like a, um like a dad to him.
[Frank] I worked with Bumpy
for that many years.
Thirteen years,
nine months and eight days.
And, uh, every dime I made,
I credit him for it.
You know, I credit him for it.
[Richie] When Bumpy died,
Frank got the drug business.
Frank wanted the drugs
because he thought that that was
where he would make the most money.
Out of seven boys, Frank was the oldest.
He was like my hero.
He'd ask us to do something,
we would do it.
[Richie] He was able to maintain
his control through his brothers.
He trusted his brothers
and made them rich.
Always talks about family, you know.
He just drills it in your head.
"You stick with your family."
[narrator] Frank had
a promising career path
and a loyal inner circle
to help him build his business.
But that didn't mean
everyone respected his authority.
As you launch your enterprise,
how do you prove you've got what it takes?
Nobody fools
with a guy from Harlem, you dig?
[narrator] As a mob boss, the only way
to ensure your operation's success
is to immediately show
the consequences of getting in your way.
First, I'm gonna bash his head to a pulp.
You have to establish yourself
as a killer.
It's a real tough industry
where reputation
and street cred is critical.
If you show weakness as a mob boss,
you're not gonna be alive very long.
[narrator] These guys knew how to flex
their muscles right out of the gate.
Shortly after taking over
Boston's Winter Hill Gang,
Whitey Bulger reportedly sent
a message by killing Louis Litif,
a longtime associate
who disobeyed Whitey's orders.
His body was found
mutilated in the trunk of a car.
Albert Anastasia kicked off his reign
by allegedly ordering the murder
of salesman Arnold Schuster,
who got on the boss's hit list
for helping police
track down a known fugitive.
And when Griselda Blanco
began ruling the Miami cocaine trade,
she invented a tactic
to keep her adversaries in line,
enlisting motorcycle hit men
called sicarios,
who would perform drive-by assassinations,
usually in broad daylight.
[indistinct chatter]
It wasn't long after Frank Lucas
took over Harlem's heroin business
that his reign was tested.
When you're at the top,
there's always eagles, okay?
There's always maybe somebody,
they start looking at you and figure,
"You know something? I could do this
a little bit better than this person."
"Maybe I should be the leader."
[narrator] You can't afford to let that
sort of insubordination go unanswered.
In 1960s Harlem,
the baddest guy around is Tango.
[Ezell] Tango was a big bully.
Six-foot-five, six-foot-six.
People in Harlem were
kind of fearful of him.
[narrator] Tango is
a freelance heroin dealer
known for shortchanging his suppliers.
It's something new boss
Frank Lucas can't allow.
Frank senses an opportunity
to show who's really in charge
and cut the giant down to size.
When he hears
Tango is looking for more product,
Frank supplies him with a kilo of heroin,
knowing Tango
will ultimately try to stiff him too.
And when Frank comes
to collect two weeks later,
Tango doesn't disappoint.
He refuses to pay Frank a dime
and lashes out, challenging Frank's honor.
And his mother's.
[narrator] A crowd forms,
just as Frank knew it would.
[tense music intensifies]
[gun cocking]
[crowd screaming]
[narrator] The message is clear.
Frank knew
to let people know when you are the boss,
that not only
is your finger on the trigger,
but you know how to pull it.
[narrator] That's the sort of reputation
you need to succeed.
But as a mob boss,
your brawn may kick open the door,
but it's your brain
that'll bring in the cash.
Start with this mantra
any wise businessman must follow,
never pay retail.
Kids dream of becoming athletes,
astronauts, or movie stars.
No one ever aspires to become a middleman.
Too bad,
because that's where the money is.
[Lewis] In the heroin business,
the supply chain, it's international.
The middleman is making
a tremendous amount of money
because he's going right to the source.
[narrator] And that's coming out
of your profits.
Let me explain.
While Frank was getting started,
heroin came to the US
through what was called
"The French Connection."
[bell dings]
It started with poppies grown in Turkey.
When the plants matured,
they were harvested for opium sap.
The sap was boiled with lime
to separate the morphine.
Then it was off to France,
where industrious chemists
turned the morphine into heroin.
It's a precise and smelly process.
Next, it was up to the middlemen
from the Corsican Mafia
to move the refined heroin
across the Atlantic to America,
hiding it any way they could.
Now, that's an expensive toaster.
Once the heroin made landfall,
the American mob sold it
at a markup of up to 400%.
Then it hit the streets,
courtesy of domestic dealers
like Frank Lucas.
For the Mafia, this arrangement
made them countless millions.
But for hustlers like Frank,
it was a painfully
inefficient proposition.
Frank wanted to try to figure out,
"How do I cut out the middleman
to maximize my profits?"
And also reduce
the opportunity for law enforcement
to penetrate his organization.
[narrator] Lucas needed a big idea,
which he got from the same place
you're probably getting
this essential content,
[Frank] There used to be
a news broadcast come on.
They used to tell you
about those guys in Vietnam getting high.
[broadcaster] Washington now admits
there is a serious drug problem
among its servicemen in Vietnam.
[narrator] And while some
might only see a crisis,
Frank's mind went to a different place.
Frank saw an opportunity
to bring the heroin in from Asia.
[narrator] Frank's master plan?
Bypass the French Connection
and create his own heroin pipeline
from the Far East.
And luckily, he already had a hookup.
His cousin,
a gentleman named Ike Atkinson,
was a retired Army sergeant in Asia
who was able to make contact
with those who were growing the poppies.
[narrator] But when you're considering
a new business venture,
you need to look before you leap.
[horns honking]
[narrator] Frank travels
to Bangkok, Thailand,
to meet with cousin Ike
who introduces him to his local supplier.
A man Frank dubs 007 for obvious reasons.
007 is willing to sell Frank
over 200 kilos of heroin on the spot
for around a million dollars,
one-tenth of what the Mafia would charge.
Frank eagerly agrees,
and finds a helpful service man
to bring the haul stateside.
This could be the start
of a beautiful relationship.
But Frank needs to make sure
007's operation is up to the challenge.
So he heads into the Thai jungle himself,
hiking for days in the sweltering heat
until finally he reaches
the Promised Land.
[mysterious music plays]
Frank is so impressed,
he buys more product on the spot.
But the return trip hits a snag.
Frank fights alongside the guides.
When the smoke clears,
the bandits are dead.
While Frank's goal
of securing a direct heroin supply,
that's alive and well.
I went in. I got the load.
And came back, and the rest is history.
[narrator] But even if you secure
a direct hookup for your product,
you won't become a top boss
without mastering sales.
How do you keep
your merchandise flying off the shelves?
Anytime your sales volume
isn't up to your full market potential,
whatever the reason, you've got a problem.
[narrator] The playbook solution
to this common dilemma?
Become the only game in town.
[woman] If you corner the market,
you have control over the market.
You can charge whatever the hell you want.
[narrator] It certainly worked
for these guys.
Crime boss Enoch "Nucky" Johnson
used his political connections
to control all of Atlantic City's rackets
during Prohibition,
making half a million dollars a year,
nine million today,
off of illegal booze,
prostitution, and gambling.
Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo Scarfo
cornered the methamphetamine market
by importing and distributing
more than 100 gallons of P2P.
Enough of this key ingredient
to make half a ton
of the highly addictive drug.
And Cheng Chui Ping, known as Sister Ping,
made $40 million over two decades
by becoming the go-to provider
for smuggling migrants
from China to the United States,
earning her the nickname
"The Mother of all Snakeheads."
But Frank Lucas was looking to serve
an even larger
and faster-growing consumer base.
About 50% of the heroin addicts
live in New York City,
and an estimated 80% of the known addicts
in New York City live here, in Harlem.
[narrator] Demand was clearly
not a problem,
but how do you make sure
customers come to you to get their fix?
It starts with marketing.
Like most organizations,
you have a product,
you give it a brand name.
So you want people to look for your brand.
You have to make sure your brand is good.
[narrator] And that its name
grabs people's attention.
Here's some of Frank's competition.
Some of these I recognize.
You want me to read all of them?
Mean Machine.
Could Be Fatal.
Taster's Choice.
Harlem Hijack. Joint.
Fuck Me, Fuck You.
Dick Down.
Oh, Can't Get Enough of That Funky Stuff.
- Payback.
- Tragic Magic.
Nice To Be Nice.
Ding Dong.
OD Correct. Official Correct.
Past Due.
Payback Revenge.
Green Tape. Red Tape. Rush.
They didn't lack
for imagination. [chuckles]
[narrator] But clever branding
only goes so far.
It's what's in the package that counts.
Frank stamped his "Blue Magic,"
and it was the best dope you could buy.
[narrator] Frank's secret sauce?
Most heroin that dealers sold at the time
had purity levels
of just one to three percent.
But Lucas put his customers first,
upping the purity level
to five to seven percent.
They got a better high.
I mean, you know, you can buy a Ford
or you can buy a Cadillac.
I'd rather buy the Cadillac,
and that's what Frank
was selling these people.
[narrator] And when you're selling
a premium and potentially deadly product,
quality control is essential.
Frank made sure his production line
was in the hands of a true expert.
The manufacturing genius
he called Red Top.
Each time Frank receives
a heroin shipment from Asia,
he delivers it to Red Top
who cuts the heroin
with additional substances
to get it street ready.
As demand increases,
Frank hires more staff
and makes these new employees
wear a specific uniform for transparency.
To avoid detection,
Lucas has Red Top frequently shift
the operation around the city.
Sometimes he even reportedly pays off cops
to do the work inside their homes.
But to truly corner the market,
Frank needed something else.
A solid retail strategy.
Studying police behavior,
Frank notices a key pattern.
At 4:00 p.m. daily,
cops on the early shift leave their posts.
But the night shift
doesn't take over until 5:00.
Frank instructs his lieutenants
to hit the streets hard
during this golden hour.
While Frank monitors
his crew's customer service
by cruising through Harlem undercover.
If anybody slips up, there's hell to pay.
[narrator] But when your product
sells this well,
sometimes all you have to do
is sit back and enjoy.
By creating a premium product
and mastering distribution,
Frank had Harlem's heroin market
in the palm of his hand.
At this point, who wouldn't want
to enjoy the fruits of their labors?
But before you start
throwing your money around,
pay close attention
to the playbook's next lesson.
When you're pushing drugs on the street,
you don't exactly get paid
with direct deposit.
Cash money is preferred
when you're dealing in illegal activity
because there's no record.
[narrator] But being flush with cash
can create some problems.
They were making so much money
in the street, it was crazy.
[Lewis] Guys like Frank Lucas,
they had hundreds of thousands of dollars
of twenties and fifties
and tens and fives.
It's bulky to carry.
It's difficult to count.
And you know,
the bank will be a little suspicious
about why do you have all this cash money
when most people get paid in checks?
[narrator] Those aren't the only issues.
Ultimately, everybody, including mobsters,
have to give
some accounting of their money,
and if you're living in a mansion
in Howard Beach, and you've got a Porsche,
and then when it comes time
for your income taxes
you claim that you make
$12,000 a year as a mailman,
it's not gonna add up.
[narrator] This is why
the crime gods invented
money laundering.
Ready to turn dirty money into clean cash?
While techniques vary,
they mostly follow the same basic steps.
Step one. Placement.
Create a legitimate business
with a bank account
where you can park your illicit profits,
like a car wash or a strip club.
Step two. Layering.
Use complex transactions to separate
the money from its illegal source.
For example, buy gold.
Cash it in.
Then send that money
from one international bank account
to another
to make it even harder to trace.
Or sink the proceeds into assets
like luxury cars, jewelry, or real estate.
Then sell them again.
Bringing us to step three. Integration.
Invest your freshly-laundered dough
into the legitimate financial system
to keep the taxman off your trail.
Voilà! Your dirty drug money
is now clean as a whistle.
Sounds easy,
but the tricky thing
about money laundering,
you can't do it alone.
[Ezell] In New York, Frank knew everybody,
so he had a nice connection
cleaning the money up for him.
[Lewis] He had a connection
at Chemical Bank at the executive level.
He would direct the tellers
to take care of Frank when he came in.
[narrator] And take care of him they did.
[Lewis] They would count
hundreds of thousands of dollars
in fives, tens, ones, and twenties.
And the bank person he was working with
would ask no questions
and just change that money
into $100 bills.
[narrator] Like a true boss,
Lucas invested his clean cash
in legitimate tax-generating businesses.
He practically controlled
an entire block in Harlem.
He had a club there.
He had a couple of stores.
He had office buildings
in places like Detroit
and other parts of New York City.
A ranch in North Carolina.
He bought 4,000 acres of land.
Three hundred heads of cattle.
He had, like,
a $100,000 prize bull down there.
It was a big-ass bull.
This sucker was huge.
[narrator] Frank's diversified portfolio
paved his way into high society.
Frank knew the celebrities of the day.
Boxers, Joe Louis. Entertainers.
He was a celebrity of his day
even though he was, you know,
doing something very illegal and wrong.
[Ezell] One time I'm sitting in the bar,
he's like, "Boy, you like James Brown?"
I'm like, "Yeah."
And then the music started playing,
and James Brown came over,
grabbed my hand and tried to get me
to dance, and I'm like, "Whoa!" [laughs]
[narrator] Thanks to Frank's
money laundering expertise,
he and his brothers were able
to live it up as Harlem royalty.
Everything's money.
This is America. [chuckles]
Everything's money.
[narrator] But when your core product
is high-grade heroin,
the happy days
probably won't last forever.
[siren wailing]
A lot of people started dying,
and the government started waking up.
America's Public Enemy Number One
in the United States is drug abuse.
[narrator] At times like these,
how do you keep
your business plan on course?
The company has suffered serious damage
both to productivity and human relations.
Both must be repaired
as quickly and completely as possible.
[narrator] If you want to build
your business to last,
you need a strategy
that can adapt to all market conditions.
In 1971, President Nixon
coined the term "War on Drugs,"
and in New York City, this war was raging,
and so it was critical
for New York City Police Department
to show that they could get things done
by taking on these guys.
[narrator] Frank used
a multipronged approach
to address this problem.
Starting with a PR campaign.
He thought doing things for the community
would be an effective way
of protecting himself and his enterprise.
Loaning money to people.
Not worrying about
if you got it paid back.
Taking care of people.
So he kept a community on his side.
[narrator] He also made sure to take care
of an even more important demographic.
Frank spent a lot of money
paying off police.
Having the police on the take means
being able to walk down the street
and not worry about being locked up.
It means knowing that you're gonna have
a supply of drugs coming in safely
without being interdicted by the police.
[narrator] But as many
mob bosses discover,
acts of generosity
can leave some men in blue wanting more.
By the early '70s,
Frank Lucas has moved his family
to a quiet house in the suburbs.
But when you inhabit the criminal life,
business has a way of following you home.
[horn honks]
Today, Frank is met
by an unwanted visitor,
a corrupt NYPD detective
he comes to call Babyface.
He orders Frank to pay him
10,000 cash a month.
Or he'll shut down
Frank's operation for good.
Frank doesn't see any real options.
So he pays up.
But while Frank scrambles
to keep Babyface off his back,
an even greater threat is amassing
against him from the DEA.
Agents have been working around the clock
to gather intel on Frank's operation.
And when a mob informant steps forward
[siren wailing]
they hit hard.
[Lewis] I can tell you
when the agents and the police officers
came to arrest him,
his wife threw several gym bags
out of the window.
And there was over $500,000
in cash, small bills.
And this was money that he was collecting
to go to Thailand
to buy 100 kilos of heroin.
[narrator] Sadly,
he'd never make that trip.
Frank goes to trial on both federal
and state drug trafficking charges.
He's found guilty
and sentenced to 70 years in prison.
But then Harlem's top drug boss
makes one last transaction.
[Lewis] Frank joined America's team
and made a business decision
to cooperate to reduce that jail time.
As a businessperson
looking out for himself,
he made the right decision for himself.
[narrator] Even if it meant
turning on his own brother.
You never tell.
And he flipped!
That type of betrayal is
it's hard to deal with sometimes.
It is. You know, somebody else,
you can deal with a little better,
but your brother, your own family members?
Cuts you to the core.
Still hurts to today. Still hurts.
[narrator] What can I say?
It's just business.
Frank Lucas's profit-maximizing genius
earned him millions,
but his time on top
lasted just seven years.
If you want your flame
to burn both bright and long,
you need to dig deeper into the playbook
and follow our next criminal titan,
Sicilian boss of bosses,
Salvatore "The Beast" Riina.
The secret to his legendary run
of underworld domination,
total disregard for human life.
Are you ready
to unleash the beast inside of you?
[theme music playing]
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