Exclusive: Real Agents to Sue Over Depiction in ‘American Gangster’

Dec 5, 2007 9:56am

As the final credits roll on "American Gangster," the Universal Studios flick starring Denzel Washington as Harlem drug thug Frank Lucas, a screen appears that states three-fourths of the drug enforcement agents assigned to New York were convicted as a result of Lucas cooperation.  There were no such convictions, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says, and a group of former agents and the attorney who prosecuted the case are demanding a retraction. According to former U.S. attorney Dominic Amorosa, who prosecuted Lucas and his cohorts in the federal case, the assertion that Lucas’ cooperation with "outcast cop" Richie Roberts "led to convictions of three-fourths of the New York City’s Drug Enforcement Agency" is baseless and "impugns and damages the reputations of hundreds of honest, decent and courageous agents." Amorosa represents Gregory Korniloff, the DEA case agent on Lucas’ federal case. On Nov. 23, he sent a strongly worded letter to Universal Studios’ general counsel Maren Christensen. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. "It is far more than ironic for ‘American Gangster’ to deprive New York City’s DEA and the USAO of credit for apprehending and prosecuting Lucas and his gang while at the same time smearing DEA agents with false allegations of corruption: it is actionable on behalf of a whole class of DEA agents," the letter states. And Amorosa says he represents other members of that class. While the movie draws its tension by pitting Lucas against Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, which may not be strictly accurate, it is certainly no different than any other "based on fact" fiction, Amorosa says. That is not what is at issue. "The movie is a fictionalized account; we know that," Amorosa says. "It’s the language that has to be removed. It’s defamatory." "After risking life and limb for two and a half years in this investigation we are portrayed as a gang of corrupt hoodlums," Korniloff says. And behind the scenes in Washington, high-level DEA officials, who also strongly object to the final language, are trying to determine what, if any, action the agency might take to protect its reputation as well, sources say. "Just on the face of it, there were about 300 agents in New York at the time," Korniloff says. "Leaving the theater you get the impression that the movie audience comes to believe we are corrupt." "Bill O’Reilly on Fox News endorsed the movie because, according to O’Reilly, it exposed the corruption of police at the time. He’s supposed to stop the spin; he bought it," Korniloff says. What Amorosa wants immediately is the removal from all future copies of the film of the offending coda that says Lucas and Roberts’ "collaboration led to the convictions of three-fourths of the New York City’s Drug Enforcement Agency." "I suggest you immediately cause the false statement at the end of the film to be removed from further distribution." That is, as it were, the final screen of Amorosa’s letter to Universal. Universal Studios declined to comment on the issue. "We are not commenting at this time," spokesperson Cindy Gardner said in an e-mail. Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?

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