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The real American gangster?

Put Denzel Washington's handsome face and cinematic charisma on screen in a crisp suit and fresh haircut.

Cast Russell Crowe and add Josh Brolin, Cuba Gooding Jr., Armand Assante and a slew of rappers as supporting characters.

Let Ridley Scott of "Gladiator" fame direct it, and you've got "American Gangster," a potential box-office smash that opens Friday.

But has the truth of real life black gangster of the 1970s, Frank "Superfly" Lucas, been glorified through Hollywoodification? Former Winthrop University archivist Ron Chepesiuk suspects it has.

Chepesiuk emerged from writing pleasant books about South Carolina history in the depths of Winthrop archives about five years ago to pen true crime books about black gangsters.

Lucas played a role in Chepesiuk's recent book, "Gangsters of Harlem," published by Barricade Books. Chepesiuk has done interviews about Superfly with Dateline, the New York Post, an episode of the History Channel's "Gangland" series and a Black Entertainment Television gangster show recently, and that's just the beginning.

"A lot of police are afraid the movie will make him a role model," Chepesiuk said. "Black DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents are very concerned about that. Not a lot of people will care how much drugs and misery he brought to Harlem."

He's teamed up with Anthony Gonzalez, who produces black gangster documentaries in The Bronx borough of New York City, and together they are making both a documentary and a book, "Superfly: The True Untold Story of Frank Lucas, American Gangster." It will be released next month.

"We both do the research," Gonzalez said. "I do the street research. I have a lot of credible sources on the streets."

Gonzalez, 35, grew up in The Bronx and ultimately served five years on a drug conspiracy conviction. Gonzalez calls the prison term "the best thing that ever happened to me." His documentaries are geared toward young people, portraying the real dead end where gangsters' lives lead.

While the pair suspects the film will paint Lucas as an informant who cleaned up a corrupt New York Police Department, their Superfly wore platform shoes, chinchilla hats and coats. He was a central figure in a 1974 indictment that saw bloody deaths of a number of witnesses before it could go to trial.

Lucas coordinated a widespread drug ring that imported heroin from Asia, Chepesiuk said, and ultimately he did become a police informant.

The former archivist, who has lost weight and now wears a large ear-stud that he insists is a real diamond, said he expects black gangsters to be a topic ripe for nonfiction for another five years.

"You have to keep track of trends," he said. "We'll see how it plays out. I'm also interested in terrorism and organized crime."

Frank Lucas now is 78 and lives in New Jersey.

Chepesiuk is researching another nonfiction book about a gang of black GIs in Vietnam who used military equipment to transport millions of dollars worth of heroin to the United States.

He credits his research skills to his background as a Winthrop archivist.

"Right now we're hanging on Frank Lucas's coattails and going for a ride," he said.

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