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Elusive drug boss Frank Matthews to hit the big screen: From narco billionaire at 28 to mysterious phantom

By David Amoruso

Drug boss Frank Matthews came up like a rocket. His organization made hundreds of millions from drug trafficking, billions in today’s currency. When authorities closed in, he jumped bail in 1973 and vanished with his girlfriend and $20 million. He remains a wanted man. “He disappeared off the face of the earth. No photos. No snitches. No fingerprints. Nothing!”

Now, this mysterious tale filled with narco kingpins, ghetto stars, and Mafiosi will be turned into a motion picture by production company D4E (Dan4Entertainment Inc.), run by Dan Pearson. The Matthews project is repped by the Paradigm Talent Agency and will be based on the book Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of Frank Matthews, Kingpin by author Ron Chepesiuk.

Gangsters of Harlem

“In the early 2000s, I was researching my book Gangsters of Harlem,” Chepesiuk tells Gangsters Inc. “I came across Matthews’ story and was surprised I had never heard of him. I went looking for a book about him but couldn't find it.”

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Chepesiuk promised his readers he would write a book about Matthews and delivered the goods. What peaked his interest? “The character of Matthews and the sheer mystery of the story,” the author says. “Matthews was as much a business man as he was a gangster. He operated in 21 states and had an international connection, which operated outside the French Connection, which was unheard of at the time. He did this by age 29!”

Vanished with his girl and $20 million

Born in 1944, Matthews spent his teenage years in Philadelphia before moving on to New York City. There, he hooked up with legendary numbers player Raymond Marquez, known as Spanish Ray. Marquez introduced him to drug trafficker Rolando Gonzalez who, in turn, introduced him to his Venezuelan connection. This direct link helped Matthews to establish himself as a major narcotics dealer in the late 1960s.

But with such prominence comes big heat. By the early 1970s, authorities begin investigating this mysterious crime boss who rose to the top of the heap within a decade. They arrest him, but flush with cash, Matthews gets himself out and jumps bail in 1973. He leaves with a beautiful woman and $20 million and is never seen again. He is still officially wanted by the U.S. Marshals.

Chepesiuk: “I call him the black Al Capone because he was the first big African American gangster. Also, we know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa (the Mafia whacked him), when Whitey Bulger was on the run we knew he was in contact with his connections in Boston. But Matthews? When he jumped bail in 1973, he disappeared off the face of the earth. No photos. No snitches. No fingerprints. Nothing!” 

From book to movie

The fascination for Matthews’ life story brought Chepesiuk in contact with Dan Pearson, whose company D4E (Dan4Entertainment Inc) produced the I Married A Mobster series on Investigation Discovery. He also wrote a book on Philadelphia mob boss Ralph Natale titled Last Don Standing and contributed to A Little Piece Of Light, the Donna Hylton memoir, which both are being developed into films.

“I wanted to know how this black man in the 1960s created an organization that brought in over $400 million dollars by the time he was 28 years old,” Pearson tells Gangsters Inc. “He disappeared with the love of his life and is still on the FBI's most wanted list and the U.S. Marshals and DEA’s lists. Frank Matthews is the one ‘that got away’.”

Chepesiuk will be a consultant on the movie with a further credit that says: ‘based on the book’. “I am hoping also to work on the script since I am a screenwriter. We will try to be as factual as possible, but this is a movie and a true story in every aspect never translates well to the screen. The movie and the book are two separate things,” Chepesiuk admits.

Fight the power

Pearson interviewed former Philadelphia mob boss Ralph Natale extensively for his book Last Don Standing. How does Frank Matthews’ story compare to that of the Italian American Mafia? “The similarities are many. Racism and discrimination are at the forefront of their venture into what is called criminal. If they were afforded the same opportunities maybe they would not have chosen to be in the Mafia or organized crime. Frank Matthews and Ralph Natale are similar in their pursuit of wanting more. More in terms of their unlimited thirst for life and life's bounty. They’re proactive not reactive in their visions for themselves. They’re predators not prey.”

Matthews took being a predator to new heights by operating a drug pipeline without Mafia influence, something unique in those days. Pearson: “He was not controlled by the Mafia: he was a man of his times. During the racial strife that plagued the country, he stood tall. Opportunities that weren’t available for a black man due to discrimination and racism, he took what was available and made it a business. While I don’t agree with the product (heroin and cocaine); I am fascinated with his business acumen. The $400,000,000 Frank Matthews made by 1973 would be in the billions in today’s dollars.”

“How can a young man, 29 years old, become the first big drug kingpin in U.S. history and then disappear like a phantom?” Chepesiuk (right) continues. “Everybody I interviewed for my book had a fascinating story about Frank, whether it was his personality or his boldness or his courage or whatever. He is a legend in the underworld. Even the good guys who tried to put him behind bars speak with some respect about him.”

How is it that such a legendary figure has not had more attention in popular culture? “I don't really know,” Chepesiuk says. “I hate to say it, but it could be racism. If Frank was white, I am sure he would get more attention. But again, I'm not complaining. Frank's relative obscurity is my good fortune,” he laughs.

There could also be another reason, Pearson adds. “Frank was smart enough to disappear at the height of his game. The most powerful American drug bosses that we hear about, that usually happens after they’ve been caught. They stayed in the news, Frank didn’t. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Which actor will play Matthews?

So, now that we know the life of Frank Matthews will be told on the silver screen, there is only one question left: Which actor will play him? “I believe it is a role to die for. From the known to the unknown, most will vie to be a part of it,” Pearson says.

“It's a great role for an actor,” Chepesiuk says with enthusiasm. “There is so much depth to Frank's character and his story is unique. I think John David Washington, who starred in BlacKkKlansman, would be good. So would Michael B. Jordan. I wish Denzel was younger. It would get him another academy award,” Chepesiuk says with a smile. “There are a lot of good young African American actors who could play the role. The choice, though, is above my pay grade. I will leave it to the director and producers.”

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