French Connection was a scheme through which
heroin was smuggled from Turkey to France and then to
States, culminating in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
when it provided the vast majority of the illicit heroin used in
the United States. Headed by the Corsican criminals
François Spirito and Antoine
Guérini, associated to Auguste
Ricord, Paul Mondoloni and
Salvatore Greco, the French
Connection dealt with Meyer Lansky and
Most of its
starting capital came from Ricord's assets stolen during World War II
when he worked for Henri Lafont
, an agent of the Carlingue
From the 1930s to the 1950s
heroin labs were first discovered near Marseilles, France, in 1937. These labs were run by
the legendary Corsican gang leader
For years, the
Corsican underworld had been involved in the manufacturing and
trafficking of illegal heroin abroad, primarily in the United
States. It was this heroin network that eventually became known as
the "French Connection"
The Corsican Mafia
was closely allied
with the Central
(CIA) and the SDECE
after World War II
in order to prevent
the French communists
from bringing the
port of Marseilles under their control.
Historically, the raw material for most of the heroin consumed in
the United States came from Indochina
then Turkey. Turkish farmers were licensed to grow opium poppies
for sale to legal drug companies,
but many sold their excess to the underworld market, where it was
manufactured into heroin and transported to the United States.
morphine paste was refined in Corsican
laboratories in Marseilles, one of the busiest ports in the western
The Marseilles heroin was reputed for its
Marseilles served as a perfect shipping
point for all types of illegal goods, including the excess opium
that Turkish farmers cultivated for profit.
The convenience of the port at Marseilles and the frequent arrival
of ships from opium-producing countries made it easy to smuggle the
morphine base to Marseilles from the Far
or the Near East
. The French underground would then ship large
quantities of heroin from Marseilles to New York.
The first significant post-World War II seizure was made in New
York on February 5, 1947, when seven pounds (3 kg) of heroin were
seized from a Corsican sailor disembarking from a vessel that had
just arrived from France.
It soon became clear that the French underground was increasing not
only its participation in the illegal trade of opium, but also its
expertise and efficiency in heroin trafficking. On March 17, 1947,
28 pounds (13 kg) of heroin were found on the French liner, St.
. On January 7, 1949, more than 50 pounds (23 kg) of
opium and heroin were seized on the French ship,
The first major French Connection case occurred in 1960.
an informant told a drug agent in Lebanon that
Mauricio Rosal, the Guatemalan Ambassador to Belgium, the
Netherlands and Luxembourg, was smuggling morphine base from Beirut, Lebanon to
been seizing about 200 pounds (90 kg) of heroin in a typical year,
but intelligence showed that the Corsican traffickers were
smuggling in 200 pounds (90 kg) every other week. Rosal alone, in
one year, had used his diplomatic status to bring in about 440
pounds (200 kg).
The Federal Bureau of
's 1960 annual report estimated that from 2,600 to
5,000 pounds (1,200 to 2,300 kg) of heroin were coming into the
United States annually from France. The French traffickers
continued to exploit the demand for their illegal product, and by
1969, they were supplying the United States with 80 to 90 percent
of its heroin.
Because of this increasing volume, heroin became readily available
throughout the United States. In an effort to limit the source,
U.S. officials went to Turkey to negotiate the phasing out of opium
production. Initially, the Turkish government agreed to limit their
opium production starting with the 1968 crop.
A CIA note from 1961 accused Jean
, the representative of Pernod
in North America
, to be the
distributor of the French Connection. The latter
was not arrested, but firmly asked to leave
the US territory in 1967.
The 1970s and the dismantling of the French Connection
Following five subsequent years of concessions, combined with
international cooperation, the Turkish
government finally agreed in 1971 to
a complete ban on the growing of Turkish opium
, effective June 29, 1972. During these
protracted negotiations, law enforcement personnel went into
action. One of the major roundups began on January 4,
1972, when agents from the US Bureau of Narcotics and
Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) and French authorities seized 110 pounds
(50 kg) of heroin at the Paris
Subsequently, traffickers Jean-Baptiste Croce and
Joseph Mari were arrested in Marseilles.One such French seizure
from the French Connection in 1973, netted 210 pounds (95 kg) of
heroin worth $38 million.
In February 1972, French traffickers offered a U.S. Army sergeant
$96,000 to smuggle 240 pounds (109 kg) of heroin into the United
States. He informed his superior who in turn notified the BNDD.
result of this investigation, five men in New York and two in
Paris were arrested with 264 pounds (120 kg) of heroin,
which had a street value of $50 million.
In a 14-month
period, starting in February 1972, six major illicit heroin
laboratories were seized and dismantled in the suburbs of
Marseilles by French national narcotics police in collaboration
with U.S. drug agents. On February 29, 1972, French authorities
seized the shrimp boat, Caprice des Temps, as it put to
sea near Marseilles heading towards Miami.
was carrying 915 pounds (415 kg) of heroin. Drug arrests in France
skyrocketed from 57 in 1970 to 3,016 in 1972. Also broken up as
part of this investigation was the crew of Vincent Papa
, whose members included Anthony Loria Sr.
and Virgil Alessi. The
well-organized gang was responsible for distributing close to a
million dollars in heroin up and down the East Coast
during the early 1970s, which in turn
led to a major New York
(NYPD) corruption scheme. The scope and depth
of this scheme are still not known, but officials suspect it
involved corrupt NYPD officers, who allowed access to the NYPD
property/evidence storage room at 400 Broome Street, where hundreds
of kilograms of heroin lay seized from the now-infamous French
Connection bust, the missing heroin replaced with flour, and
The substitution was discovered only when officers noticed insects
eating all the bags of "heroin". By that point an estimated street
value of approximately $70 million worth of "smack
" had already been taken. The racket was brought
to light and arrests were made. Certain plotters received jail
sentences, including Papa. (Papa was later assassinated in federal prison in Atlanta,
Georgia; several conflicting reasons why have been
The French Connection investigation demonstrated
that international trafficking networks were best disabled by the
combined efforts of drug enforcement agencies from multiple
countries. In this case, agents from the United States,
Canada, Italy and France
had worked together to achieve success.
Gangsters linked with the French Connection
Time, September 4, 1972
- Blumenthal, Ralph. "Mobster Makes Offer on French Connection Case", New
York Times, February 21, 2009.
- Maitland, Leslie. Papa's Game, New York Times, September 6,
- This text incorporates public domain
material from the US Department of Justice.