Drug agents sue NBC over "American Gangster"

Wed Jan 16, 2008 4:13pm EST
 
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Three former Drug Enforcement Administration agents filed a $55 million defamation lawsuit against the movie studio that made "American Gangster" on Wednesday, claiming it tarnished hundreds of reputations.

The film follows the rise and fall of former Harlem heroin kingpin Frank Lucas, portrayed by Denzel Washington. His empire undercut the price and quality of heroin sold by the Mafia and when he was caught, Lucas turned informant.

Former DEA agents Louis Diaz, Gregory Korniloff and Jack Toal said NBC Universal, the owner of Universal Studios, falsely claimed the movie was based on a true story and misrepresented the events surrounding Lucas and New Jersey Detective Richard Roberts, depicted by Russell Crowe.

The movie hurt the agents' reputations by falsely claiming in text at the end that a collaboration between Lucas and Roberts "led to the convictions of three-quarters of New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency" agents between 1973 and 1985, according to the suit, which seeks class action status.

"With this utterly false and defamatory statement, the defendant has ruined and impugned the reputations of these honest and courageous public servants in the eyes of millions of people," the suit said.

NBC Universal, owned by General Electric, denied the allegations, saying: "American Gangster does not defame these, or any, federal agents."

"The end legend specifically refers to members of 'New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency' -- not the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, where the plaintiffs formerly worked. We believe the lawsuit is entirely without merit," NBC Universal said.

The lawsuit said the public believed the film's text referred to federal DEA agents, not police officers, and regardless, no New York police officers were convicted as a result of Lucas' cooperation.   Continued...

 
<p>Denzel Washington arrives for the premiere of the film "American Gangster" in New York October 19, 2007. Three former Drug Enforcement Administration agents filed a $55 million defamation lawsuit against the movie studio that made "American Gangster" on Wednesday, claiming it tarnished hundreds of reputations. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>