Feature Articles

May 2013
Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of America's Biggest Kingpin

      By Ron Chepesiuk

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Buy it Now! Black Caesar
Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of America's Biggest Kingpin
by Ron Chepesiuk
This is an excerpt from Ron Chepesiuk's new book about the Frank Matthews story: Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of America's Biggest Kingpin. It is published by Strategic Media books ( The web site is

Who was Frank Matthews?

     Born in 1944 in Durham, North Carolina, Matthews left his hometown when he was a teenager, going first to Philadelphia and then to New York City. By the early 1970's, Frank Matthews had become America's biggest drug kingpin. His organization, headquartered in Brooklyn, stretched across 21 states, and he became the only Black gangster to establish direct ties to the French Connection heroin pipeline. To quote William Callahan, a federal prosecutor assigned to the Matthews' case, "Matthews was a pioneering giant of drug distribution.

     The $15 to 20 million Matthews is believed to have disappeared with is roughly equivalent to the $90 to $100 in today's cash. The book explores various theories about the fate of Frank Matthews, and the author offers his own conclusion about the mystery.

* * *

     Investigators continued to close in on Matthews. In November 1972, BNDD agents had already arrested George Ramos, Miguel Garcia's godson and partner in crime who had provided Matthews with seemingly endless supplies of cocaine. "It was quite unusual for a black guy to come down to Miami and buy coke from the Cubans," recalled Jack Lloyd, a retired DEA agent who investigated George Ramos and the Matthews- Miami drug connection. "Matthews would come down to Miami with $100,000 or more and buy narcotics." When Ramos was arrested, Lloyd personally brought him to New York for interrogation.

     Ramos was personable, smart, good-looking and younger than Matthews. He quickly sized up his options and knew what he had to do. "When they brought Ramos to New York for questioning, he flipped right away," Garay revealed. "We interrogated him for several days about Matthews and his organization. He told us about how Matthews had worked to establish the Venezuelan connection. We knew Ramos would be an important witness against Matthews when we were ready to indict him."

     On November 22, Ramos appeared before the grand jury and testified against Matthews. Ramos testified about various major deliveries of narcotics involving Frank Matthews and his organization between April and September 1972. Ramos recalled one meeting in June 1972 when Matthews fronted $100,000 to Ramos and Garcia for a future shipment of 100 kilos of heroin.

     Marshals guarded Ramos around the clock while they made arrangements for his entry into the Federal Witness Protection Program. Once that was done, the Marshals moved Ramos to Portland, Oregon, for safekeeping while they finished their takedown of Black Caesar.

     After a year of investigation, the authorities were ready to put the cuffs on Black Caesar. On December 20, 1972, prosecutors obtained a warrant for Matthews' arrest, but it was the holiday season, and authorities felt no urgency to execute the warrant. Matthews was able to spend a quiet Christmas with his family. Then, on New Year's Eve 1972, investigators got wind that Matthews, his girlfriend Cheryl Denise Brown, and several suitcases had left town for Las Vegas. He spent about a week in Las Vegas before traveling to Los Angeles and the Super Bowl game between the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins. Group 12 alerted the Las Vegas BNDD office and gave instructions to keep Matthews under surveillance, and agents tailed Black Caesar, but he still liked to have fun with his pursuers. Agents lost him several times in traffic. Worried that Matthews might be planning to disappear, Group 12 ordered the BNDD's Las Vegas office to arrest him.

     At 11 a.m., January 5, 1973, Matthews and Brown were picked up at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport as they were about to board a plane for Los Angeles. Matthews offered no resistance. One hour later, he was arraigned in court before U.S. Magistrate Joe Ward. He had $5,000 on him and tried to give it to Brown so she could have money to get back home. The Marshals took Brown into custody, even though there was no warrant for her arrest. They searched through Brown's purse and found a motel key. They charged her with possession of burglary tools. The authorities told the press that the charge was a technical complaint pending further investigation.

     The federal warrant charged Matthews with possession and intent to sell 18.6 kilos (almost 41 pounds) of cocaine between April and September of 1972. The street value of the cocaine was estimated to be worth between $1 million and $4.5 million. The federal warrant named George Ramos as the man who told federal investigators that he and Matthews had flown to Miami and delivered large sums of money to Miguel Garcia in return for cocaine.

     Excited by the news of Matthews' arrest, Bill Callahan and Gerard Miller caught the first plane to Las Vegas. The next day they were in the courtroom for a bail bond hearing for Matthews before magistrate Joseph L. Ward. Black Caesar was as cocky as ever. "We were literally face to face," Callahan recalled. "He told us that we had nothing on him and that he would be out in no time."

     Prosecutors argued before the magistrate that a high bail was necessary to insure Matthews remained in jail until he could be extradited to New York. They contended that Black Caesar was a threat to flee and had the money to do it. To make their point, they explained that as a big gambler, he had lost up to $120,000 in the casinos. They claimed he had millions of dollars stashed away in safety deposit boxes in Las Vegas. None of the authorities, however, expected Ward's decision. He set bail at $5 million, the highest bail in U.S. history. As Matthews left the Las Vegas courtroom, stunned and handcuffed to a federal marshal, a small, bald, bespectacled nondescript looking man walked up to him and identified himself as an IRS agent. He pulled out a piece of paper from his briefcase and handed it to Matthews.

     "What's this?" Matthews asked.

     "It's a termination assessment," the IRS agent replied, explaining in precise detail, "Your taxable income for the year just ending December 31, 1971, was approximately $100 million. You owe $7,007,165 in taxes, plus a $6 lien fee." The IRS's tax estimate was based on evidence of alleged criminal activities and was used in cases where the IRS feared that collecting the money might be a problem. An incredulous Mathews looked at the IRS agent and said, "How the fuck am I supposed to pay that?"

     The IRS agent did not miss a beat, "Preferably in cash." The assessment put Matthews in a bind. To get his client's bail reduced Stanley Kaufman, Matthews' lawyer who had flown in to Las Vegas from New York, had told Magistrate Ward that his declared income for 1971 was just $200,000. Matthews, however, would have to pay the $2.5 million bond plus the $7,009,165 that he owed to the IRS if he hoped to make bail. But he faced tax evasion charges if he paid that amount. After all, how does a man with a declared income of $200,000 get that kind of money?

     The enormous size of the bail caught the press's attention, and overnight Matthews went from being an unknown drug dealer to a media curiosity, especially when authorities began describing Matthews as the "biggest narcotics man" in New York City. New York newspaper article headlines described Black Caesar as "the mystery man of Todt Hill" and revealed how life had been "high style for (the) dope suspect." A Matthews neighbor told the New York Daily News, "Matthews is a curiosity in the neighborhood because he's the only black here. He's lived here a year or two. It's no surprise to hear about his arrest. When I told some people recently that I lived on Buttonwood Road, they said, 'Oh, you're right near the Harlem dope king.'"

     Another neighbor described Matthews as being protective of his privacy, although he appeared to be a lavish spender. "I've never seen him except when he drove by in one of his cars. He has about $10,000 worth of cars, including a Rolls Royce parked in his driveway. It's common knowledge he was taken to the cleaners on his home, charged exorbitant prices by the contractors."

     Eventually, Keith Diamond, the Matthews tutor, read press reports about how the police had put Matthews' house under surveillance. At first the reports brought a chill to his spine. Then he smiled. Diamond remembered how he would show up at Matthews' Todt Hill mansion carrying a briefcase and looking like a Matthews associate. The authorities never brought him in for questioning.

     "It was all over the news�the arrest in Las Vegas of the big New York drug dealer," he recalled. "Then I started to get phone calls about the arrest from my parents in Florida, from my friends� Did you hear? Did you hear? It was him, Frank Matthews. Eventually, I was disappointed because I needed the job."
With bail set, the authorities were ready to transport Matthews back to New York City.

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