Barnes, Nicky 1933- (Leroy Barnes)

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Barnes, Nicky 1933- (Leroy Barnes)


Born 1933; children: two daughters. Education: Holds a college degree.


Writer and former drug kingpin. Convicted of narcotics conspiracy, 1977; released from prison, 1998.


Winner of a national poetry contest for federal prison inmates.


(With Tom Folsom) Mr. Untouchable, Rugged Land (New York, NY), 2007.


Barnes's life story was adapted as the motion picture American Gangster, starring Denzel Washington and released by Universal Pictures, 2007.


Leroy "Nicky" Barnes is a well-known figure in the history of crime and the drug trade in New York City. Revered by some and despised by others, Barnes once made millions of dollars and was the mastermind of an intricate network of drug suppliers. Yet he also served decades of hard time in prison, and even today is still concerned for his life in case an old associate decides to take revenge for past wrongs. In his memoir, Mr. Untouchable, written with Tom Folsom, Barnes recounts the story of his violent rise as the most successful heroin dealer in New York, the high-rolling lifestyle that his illicitly gained millions allow him to indulge in, his jolting fall from power and his years in prison, and the state of grace and wisdom that age and hard-edged experience has allowed him to achieve in later life.

Born in 1933, Barnes grew up in the violent and crime-drenched environment of Harlem. There, he could see that involvement with the drug trade often brought considerable money, power, and respect. Despite the risks, it was a world that appealed to him greatly. He became a drug dealer while in his twenties, but was apprehended and sent to prison in 1965, reported a biographer on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Web site. In prison, Barnes met Italian gangster "Crazy Joey" Gallo, the DEA biographer stated. Gallo taught Barnes the intricacies of running a drug-trafficking organization, and later supplied a lawyer who helped Barnes get released. Some thought that Barnes was going to team up with Gallo and other Italian mobsters who wanted to establish a drug-selling foothold in Harlem. Instead, Barnes began assembling his own rapidly growing drug business.

In time, Barnes's organization grew into a sprawling, tightly controlled network that controlled heroin sales in New York, as well as in Canada and Pennsylvania, noted the DEA biographer. In an unprecedented move, he wrested control of the drug trade in Harlem and New York City away from Italian sellers and established prominence with his African-American group. "His syndicate made enormous profits by cutting and packaging low-quality heroin," reported the DEA biographer. "By 1976," the biographer continued, "he had at least seven major lieutenants working for him, each of whom controlled a dozen mid-level distributors, who in turn supplied up to forty street-level retailers." The upper level "Council of Seven," held together by mutual respect and an oath of brotherhood, helped Barnes maintain control of his vast heroin empire. By 1977, Barnes's organization was selling upwards of one hundred million dollars of heroin per year, noted a biographer on the AOL Black Voices Web site. His own wealth was tremendous and ostentatiously displayed through expensive sports cars, high-quality suits, and beautiful women. Barnes's skill in constructing the mechanism of his organization made it difficult for the authorities to tie him directly to any illegal activity, and his seeming immunity to arrest or conviction garnered him the nickname "Mr. Untouchable."

After a New York Times Magazine story appeared depicting Barnes on the cover under his irksome sobriquet, authorities began to pay greater attention to the defiant drug kingpin. It is reported that even then-President Jimmy Carter took a direct interest in seeing Barnes apprehended. In 1977, Barnes was found guilty of heroin trafficking by the country's first anonymous jury, whose names were concealed by the presiding judge in order to preserve the jurors' safety. While in prison, Barnes's Council of Seven began to unravel, and after several betrayals he decided to turn government informer, ultimately providing information on more than 110 of his associates. In 1998, Barnes was released from prison and went into the federal witness protection program, where his life today revolves around family and reminiscing about his storied past. Barnes's memoir "pulsates with the criminal street life it depicts so well," observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The book relates "juicy details of the drug trade wrapped up in breezy wit," commented Neil Drumming in Entertainment Weekly. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Mr. Untouchable "the tale of a crime lord that's as vicious, graphic and entertaining as anything out there today."



Barnes, Leroy "Nicky," and Tom Folsom, Mr. Untouchable, Rugged Land (New York, NY), 2007.


Entertainment Weekly, March 9, 2007, Neil Drumming, review of Mr. Untouchable, p. 113.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2007, review of Mr. Untouchable, p. 58.

Newsday, November 29, 2006, "A Good Show on Some Bad Guys."

New York Times, March 11, 1983, Arnold H. Lubasch, "Nine Men Are Accused in Drug Conspiracy: Barnes's Aid Is Cited," p. 1; October 19, 1983, "Barnes Recalls Votes by a Drugs ‘Council’ to Murder Informers," p. 4; February 22, 1992, Ronald Sullivan, "U.S. Attorney Seeks Release of Informer"; January 28, 2007, Sam Roberts, "Reading New York," review of Mr. Untouchable.

Publishers Weekly, February 19, 2007, review of Mr. Untouchable, p. 161.

Time, December 12, 1977, "Bad, Bad Leroy Barnes," profile of Nicky Barnes.

Variety, June 25, 2007, Robert Koehler, "Mr. Untouchable," p. 49.


AOL Black Voices, (February 5, 2007), Felicia Pride, profile of Nicky Barnes.

A.V. Club, (November 27, 2007), review of Mr. Untouchable.

Black America Web, (October 26, 2007), Esther Iverem, "Before Frank Lucas, There Was Leroy ‘Nicky’ Barnes—‘Mr. Untouchable,’" review of Mr. Untouchable.

Gang Land News, (March 15, 1999), Jerry Capeci, "Barnes Free at Last"; (November 27, 2007), profile of Nicky Barnes.

Internet Movie Database, (November 27, 2007), filmography of Nicky Barnes.

NY Magazine, (October 25, 2007), Mark Jacobson, "Lords of Dopetown," interview with Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes.

Rugged Land Web site, (November 27, 2007), biography of Nicky Barnes.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Web site, (November 27, 2007), "The Arrest of Nicky Barnes," profile of Barnes.

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Barnes, Nicky 1933- (Leroy Barnes)

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Barnes, Nicky 1933- (Leroy Barnes)