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The French Connection was a scheme through which heroin was smuggled from Turkeymarker to Francemarker and then to the United Statesmarker, 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 Corsicanmarker criminals François Spirito and Antoine Guérini, associated to Auguste Ricord, Paul Mondoloni and Salvatore Greco, the French Connection dealt with Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano. 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 (French Gestapo).

From the 1930s to the 1950s

Illegal heroin labs were first discovered near Marseillesmarker, France, in 1937. These labs were run by the legendary Corsicanmarker gang leader Paul Carbone. 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 Intelligence Agency (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. The morphine paste was refined in Corsican laboratories in Marseilles, one of the busiest ports in the western Mediterranean Seamarker. The Marseilles heroin was reputed for its quality.

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 East or the Near East. The French underground would then ship large quantities of heroin from Marseilles to New Yorkmarker.

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. Tropez. On January 7, 1949, more than 50 pounds (23 kg) of opium and heroin were seized on the French ship, Batista.

The 1960s

The first major French Connection case occurred in 1960. In June, an informant told a drug agent in Lebanonmarker that Mauricio Rosal, the Guatemalanmarker Ambassador to Belgiummarker, the Netherlandsmarker and Luxembourgmarker, was smuggling morphine base from Beirutmarker, Lebanonmarker to Marseilles. Narcotics agents had 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 Narcotics'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 Venturi, the representative of Pernod Ricard 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 Parismarker airport. 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. As a result of this investigation, five men in New York and two in Parismarker 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 Miamimarker. It 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 Police Department (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 cornstarch.

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, Georgiamarker; several conflicting reasons why have been suggested). 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, Canadamarker, Italymarker and France had worked together to achieve success.

Gangsters linked with the French Connection



Films



References

  1. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,910391-1,00.html Time, September 4, 1972
  2. Blumenthal, Ralph. "Mobster Makes Offer on French Connection Case", New York Times, February 21, 2009.
  3. Maitland, Leslie. Papa's Game, New York Times, September 6, 1981
This text incorporates public domain material from the US Department of Justicemarker. [444858]


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