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Nicky Barnes, ‘Mr. Untouchable’ of Heroin Sellers, Is Monotonous at 78

ImageNicky Barnes outside the United States Court House in Lower Manhattan in 1977. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. But by the early 1980s he had begun testifying against his former associates, leading to his release from prison into the federal witness protection program.CreditCreditTyrone Dukes/The New York Times“Nicky Barnes is…




Nicky Barnes, ‘Mr. Untouchable’ of Heroin Sellers, Is Monotonous at 78

Nicky Barnes outdoor the united states Court docket Residence in Lower The giant apple in 1977. He turned into as soon as convicted and sentenced to lifestyles in penitentiary without parole. But by the early Eighties he had begun testifying in opposition to his damaged-down pals, ensuing in his liberate from penitentiary into the federal gaze protection program.CreditCreditTyrone Dukes/The Fresh York Times

“Nicky Barnes is no longer around anymore,” stated the balding, limping grandfather within the dishevelled Lee dungarees.

“Nicky Barnes’s standard of living and his label machine is extinct,” he went on, speaking of himself within the third person in a restaurant interview with The Fresh York Times in 2007. “I left Nicky Barnes within the support of.”

With that, the person requested the waitress for a puppy accumulate for his grilled salmon, and left.

He turned into as soon as the antithesis of the previous Nicky Barnes, a flamboyant Harlem folks hero who had owned as many as 200 suits, 100 pairs of personalized-made sneakers, 50 corpulent-length leather coats, a rapid of luxury vehicles, and a number of properties and apartments financed by the fortune he had accrued within the late 1960s and ′70s, first by saturating murky neighborhoods with heroin and later by investing the earnings in actual property and varied resources.

Moreover, he turned into as soon as truly no longer Nicky Barnes even by title. Convicted in 1977, imprisoned for bigger than two a protracted time, he within the raze testified in opposition to his damaged-down pals, guaranteeing their convictions, and turned into as soon as released into the federal gaze protection program below a novel identification.

The novel Nicky Barnes promptly submerged himself so totally in mainstream The US that rarely ever someone beyond his instantaneous family knew his novel title, his whereabouts and even whether or no longer he turned into as soon as peaceable alive.

But now it could really well very properly be stated that Nicky Barnes is just not any doubt no longer around anymore, in any beget. This week, one of his daughters and a damaged-down prosecutor, each and each speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Mr. Barnes had died of cancer in 2012. He turned into as soon as 78, or perhaps Seventy nine.

“My sister and I accumulate kept his passing non-public and accumulate no longer released it publicly,” his daughter wrote in an email. “It peaceable remains a sensitive subject given all that took place. Our dad turned into as soon as very non-public and we wanted to recognize that.”

She moreover stated that she and her sister could well well write a memoir about rising up as the daughters of a infamous prison.

The US Marshals Provider declines to invent files on folks within the gaze protection program. Mr. Barnes’s daughters had moreover been given novel identities below the program. On account of of his novel guise, his loss of life, in an unidentified space, turned into as soon as never reported below the title Leroy Nicholas Barnes.

That title turned into as soon as as soon as as infamous as any in Fresh York City and beyond. He had headed a lucrative and lethal drug-dealing endeavor that regarded impregnable, thanks to misplaced proof, lapsed memories and missing witnesses.

His document of warding off conviction inflated his ego, to the level where in 1977 this rushing dope peddler flaunted his supposed invulnerability by posing — recklessly, as it grew to became out — in a blue denim swimsuit and a crimson, white and blue tie for the quilt of The Fresh York Times Magazine.

He loomed from the procure page defiantly in darkish glasses subsequent to the headline “Mister Untouchable,” adopted by what amounted to a thumb-in-the-recognize taunt: “The Police Exclaim He Might perhaps maybe maybe Be Harlem’s Biggest Drug Dealer. But Can They Trace It?”

Mr. Barnes posed for the quilt of The Fresh York Times Magazine in 1977, an act of defiance that offended President Jimmy Carter and ended in stepped up efforts by the Justice Division to prosecute him.CreditAlex Webb/Magnum Pictures

The quilt so affronted President Jimmy Carter that the White Residence ordered Mr. Barnes, who had been indicted over again only weeks sooner than, to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The Justice Division did legal that. And later in 1977, he turned into as soon as convicted and sentenced to lifestyles in penitentiary without parole.

Whereas Mr. Barnes languished within the support of bars, though, his damaged-down cronies, his partner and his girlfriends began squandering the prison endeavor that had made them millionaires.

He felt betrayed. But he extracted his revenge: He testified in opposition to them in federal trials, and rankings of his wayward damaged-down pals were convicted. One turned into as soon as his ex-partner, Thelma Grant, who pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and served 10 years in penitentiary.

In return for his cooperation, the authorities released Mr. Barnes from penitentiary in 1998. But concluding that he would henceforth be a marked man, the authorities offered him something extra: a novel lifestyles, though a hidden one, within the gaze protection program.

And with that, Mr. Barnes done a intention that his damaged-down self would accumulate loathed, even feared: to be forgotten.

Or largely. In 2007, his repute turned into as soon as fast rekindled in a book by Tom Folsom titled “Mr. Untouchable” and in a documentary movie of the same title. That same one year, he turned into as soon as played by Cuba Gooding Jr. within the movie “American Gangster,” which, to Mr. Barnes’s irritation, focused no longer on him but on his leading challenger for peddling dope and bragging rights, Frank Lucas.

Mr. Lucas died on Might perhaps maybe maybe 30 at 88 — a loss of life that evoked the Harlem heroin wars of the Seventies and a ask that had no longer been posed in years: What ever came about to Nicky Barnes?

It’s no longer a mystery. And now his loss of life has evoked one other put of memories. This week, after discovering out of Mr. Barnes’s loss of life, Robert B. Fiske Jr., the united states attorney in The giant apple in 1977, recalled him as having overseen “the finest, the most a hit and the most venal drug ring in Fresh York.”

Mr. Barnes turned into as soon as born in Harlem on Oct. 15, 1933, and grew up around Eighth Avenue and West 113th Street. An altar boy for a time, he turned into as soon as moreover arrested on robbery charges sooner than he turned into as soon as 10. He fled from an alcoholic father. He never went beyond junior excessive faculty, grew to became a street junkie and turned into as soon as sent for treatment to Lexington, Ky., where he turned into as soon as weaned from medication. He stated he never ancient them over again.

Arrests on charges of possession of burglary tools and breaking into vehicles ended in confinement on the Tombs in Lower The giant apple. Later, properly on his formula to a lifestyles of crime, he served time at Inexperienced Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, N.Y., where he reportedly transformed to Islam.

First as a competitor and then with the connivance of the Italian Mafia, Mr. Barnes rose within the late 1960s to became the kingpin of an empire that imported and allotted thousands and thousands of bucks charge of heroin in Fresh York, Pennsylvania, Canada and in other locations, the total while murdering competitors.

The police confiscated $130,000 in profit his vehicle and $43,934 in cramped bills in his residence, at the side of handguns and a sawed-off shotgun. (For some time, he lived on Haven Avenue in Washington Heights in an residence owned by Columbia University.)


Mr. Barnes with a defense attorney, David Breitbart, outdoor the The giant apple federal courthouse in 1977 as jurors deliberated. A damaged-down prosecutor recalled him this week as the kingpin of “the finest, the most a hit and the most venal drug ring in Fresh York.”CreditTyrone Dukes/The Fresh York Times

Mr. Barnes estimated that he had earned on the least $5 million promoting heroin within the a entire lot of years sooner than his 1977 conviction — earnings he had augmented by investing in shuttle agencies, gas stations, a series of computerized carwashes and housing initiatives in Cleveland and Pontiac, Mich. He moreover marketed something called a flake-burger, constituted of remnants of butchered pork.

By the level he audaciously agreed to be photographed for the quilt of The Times Magazine and a chunk of writing internal, he had a document of 13 arrests as an adult and no convictions.

Searching back, dwelling as a lot as his tale within the magazine could well accumulate regarded perfectly justified to this man, even supposing he turned into as soon as facing federal charges on the time that carried a lifestyles sentence. This turned into as soon as a person, in spite of every thing, who could well well plunge into books about murky historical previous one moment and, the next, lead the police — who were repeatedly tailing him — on 100-mile-per-hour wild goose chases all the intention in the course of the metropolis for no apparent motive, returning to his residence without even having been issued a value for speeding.

Tongue in cheek, Mr. Barnes told Mr. Folsom for his book that he had the least bit times wondered why President Carter had been so offended by the magazine duvet, since he had been wearing the most understated items in his cloth cupboard. “It’s a wash-and-wear blue denim swimsuit,” Mr. Barnes turned into as soon as quoted as announcing in mock amazement.

Aloof, as the columnist Pete Hamill told The Daily Beast in 2017, relating to the picture: “That you simply would possibly want to’t accumulate The Times write about you whenever you occur to could well well be a gangster and ask to procure away with anything. Winning gangsters can no longer be recognized.”

Mr. Barnes insisted on his innocence even after he turned into as soon as found guilty in 1977 of heading a critical drug distribution endeavor in Harlem that had conspired to sell, wholesale, $1 million in heroin a month.

He moreover denied that he turned into as soon as a murderer; he had only ordered others to kill, he stated. The authorities believed he turned into as soon as able to each and each.

The trial turned into as soon as the predominant federal case wherein the jurors’ identities were kept secret to present protection to their safety.

In 1978, Mr. Barnes turned into as soon as sentenced in Federal District Court docket in The giant apple by Consume Henry F. Werker.

“The saddest portion of all,” the reveal stated from the bench, “is that the huge majority of folks he is affecting are folks in his beget neighborhood.”

Mr. Barnes began cooperating with the authorities within the early Eighties.

“How mighty heroin did you and your organization scheme close and sell?” a prosecutor, Benito Romano, requested him all the intention in the course of the trial of one of Mr. Barnes’s pals.

“In the thousands of pounds,” Mr. Barnes spoke back, relating to the duration from 1970 until his conviction.

Others, cherish Mr. Lucas, claimed the highlight, but Mr. Barnes grew to became folkloric. He turned into as soon as stated to accumulate inspired Jim Croce’s 1973 hit song “Wicked, Wicked Leroy Brown,” and to had been the model for Wesley Snipes’s galvanic drug seller within the 1991 movie “Fresh Jack City.”

“He turned into as soon as the No. 1; he had charisma,” Sterling Johnson Jr., a federal reveal and damaged-down particular narcotics prosecutor in Fresh York City, stated in 2007. Mr. Barnes turned into as soon as recognized at hand out holiday turkeys in Harlem cherish a Tammany ward heeler and proudly defend certain volumes of his courtroom testimony.


Mr. Barnes in an undated police photo. In 2007 he turned into as soon as the subject of a biography and a documentary movie and portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. within the movie “American Gangster.”Creditby assignment of Magnolia Pictures

His attorneys insisted, though, that law enforcement officials exaggerated his wealth and his standard of living. “My God, the fellow’s obtained holes in his sneakers,” one defense attorney stated. The attorney insisted that, sure, Mr. Barnes turned into as soon as ferried around in esteem vehicles, but he rented them.

Aloof, when it came time to put up bail after his 1974 arrest, $100,000 in tests mysteriously regarded, originating in a Harlem church. A reveal rejected the money, questioning its source, and as an different Mr. Barnes ancient as collateral his equity in a $4.6 million federally aided Detroit housing mission.

When he turned into as soon as incarcerated in federal penitentiary in Marion, In uncomfortable health., he earned a college stage, taught varied inmates and won a poetry contest for prisoners.

Released after bigger than two a protracted time within the support of bars, his flamboyance a thing of the previous, Mr. Barnes readily tailored to the gaze protection program. “The anonymity that cloaks Heart The US is the lifestyles I’m gratified with, and what I must be,” he stated within the 2007 Times interview.

He told neighbors and colleagues, if they requested, that he turned into as soon as a bankrupt businessman, worked at a Walmart and dreamed of opening a Krispy Kreme franchise. He drove to work in a ancient vehicle, lived in a largely white neighborhood and save in a 40-hour workweek.

“I must procure up daily and procure within the vehicle and stir to work and be a respected member of my community,” Mr. Barnes stated. “And I’m respected.”

He added: “I’m no longer having a gaze within the rearview reveal to take a look at if someone is tailing me anymore. I don’t flip on the blender when I’m at home so I will be able to bid. That is no longer a portion of my lifestyles. Determined, I’d scheme near accumulate extra money, but I’m no longer absorbing to attain anything but stir to my job to procure it.”

His two grown daughters, who had been in foster care after their mother’s arrest, were moreover given novel identities below the gaze protection program and moved to be with him for some time after his liberate.

One daughter as soon as defined in an interview: “It’s arduous for us to reveal about ‘Mr. Untouchable’ as being the same person as our dad. By the level we were former sufficient to achieve what he had performed, we had so many certain experiences with him.”

Aloof, to many of his damaged-down colleagues who spent years in penitentiary or who remain incarcerated, he turned into as soon as a snitch, even though he had grew to became gaze for the prosecution as payback for his or her disloyalty.

He wept on the gaze stand as he recognized damaged-down pals as participants of a “council” of narcotics traffickers who had vowed to “treat my brother as myself.” The pals’ attorneys scoffed at his testimony. Mr. Barnes, they stated, turned into as soon as testifying only to pick out out parole or a pardon.

Became there anything, he turned into as soon as requested in 2007, worse than being an informer?

“Being in penitentiary for the leisure of your lifestyles,” Mr. Barnes spoke back. “I’d somewhat be out as a gaze than be in there and what they signify as a stand-up man.”

“I’m out,” he stated. “They’re in.”


An earlier model of this obituary misstated the date that the gangster Frank Lucas died. It turned into as soon as Might perhaps maybe maybe 30, no longer Might perhaps maybe maybe 31.

A model of this article looks in print on

, on Web page



of the Fresh York edition

with the headline:

Nicky Barnes, 78, Flamboyant Heroin Kingpin Who Taunted Authorities, Dies

. Uncover Reprints | Right this moment time’s Paper | Subscribe

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