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In 1968, Frank Lucas is the right-hand man of Harlem mob boss Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. When Johnson dies of a heart attack, Frank enters the heroin trade, buying directly from producers in Thailand and smuggling it into the U.S. through returning Vietnam War servicemen. Frank sells his heroin under the brand “Blue Magic”, whose affordability and purity makes it incredibly popular, wiping out much of his competition.
Newark detective and aspiring lawyer Richie Roberts is ostracized in his precinct after handing in almost $1 million that he found in a mobster’s car. After his outcasted and addicted partner overdoses on Blue Magic, Captain Lou Toback puts Roberts in charge of a special task force that targets major local drug suppliers. Roberts is also depicted having a bitter divorce battle with his ex-wife over his infidelity.
Frank’s heroin racket prospers; he eventually sells Blue Magic wholesale to many dealers in the New York Tri-State Area, and expands his distribution through other criminal organisations. With this monopoly, Frank becomes Harlem’s top crime lord, opening legitimate business fronts and maintaining a low profile, while becoming friends with politicians and famous celebrities such as Joe Louis. He buys a mansion for his mother, and recruits his five brothers as his lieutenants.
Frank eventually falls in love with and marries Eva, a Puerto Rican beauty queen. He attends the Fight of the Century with her, where Roberts spots Frank, notices he has better seats than the Italian mobsters, and begins investigating him. Frank also comes to odds with competing local gangster Nicky Barnes; corrupt NYPD detective Nick Trupo, who is among many people Frank is forced to bribe; and the Corsican mafia, who make a failed assassination attempt on Frank and his wife for putting them out of business.
One night, Roberts’ detectives witness one of Frank’s cousins, Jimmy Zee, shoot his girlfriend; he becomes their informant in lieu of being convicted. They make Jimmy wear a wire, through which they learn that Frank has negotiated one final shipment of heroin after the fall of Saigon. They identify and search one of the last planes carrying Lucas’ stock, discovering that it is being smuggled through the coffins of dead servicemen. They follow the drugs into Newark’s projects and obtain a warrant to raid Frank’s heroin processing facility, which results in the arrest of Frank’s brother Huey. They then arrest the other four brothers, and finally Frank himself.
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