“If you strike the King you better kill him or he’ll move on you and take your ass out”.
This is the true-life story of a junkie turned multimillionaire drug-lord. MR. UNTOUCHABLE takes you deep inside the heroin game. With the first hand testimony of the black Godfather himself, Nicky Barnes. This is an epic story of business, excess, greed and revenge.
Nicky Barnes was the most powerful black drug kingpin in New York City history. From humble beginnings he came to dominate the heroin distribution business and make himself and his comrades rich beyond their wildest dreams. Trusted and trained by the Italians he set up his own black crime family – The Council – a formidable drug collective.
The film has secured the testimony of Nicky Barnes himself. Barnes has broken the street code and his 23-year silence to tell all in this epic American dream story. We have also interviewed former members of The Council and others in the Barnes drug Collective. This is an inside look at the heroin business from the Kingpin at the top to the dealer and user on the street.
Barnes reveled in his nickname Mister Untouchable and was often seen strutting the sidewalks in eye-catching suits, dripping in diamonds and with a girl on each arm. But his ostentatious manner drew the attention of the authorities and a classic cops and robbers chase began. We have interviewed the federal prosecutors and undercover DEA agents and informant that worked so hard and risked their lives to win the game of cat and mouse that ensued.
In 1977 Barnes reached national infamy when the New York Times put him on the front cover of their magazine with the headline “Mr. Untouchable”.
“This is Nicky Barnes” the text said. “The police say he is Harlem’s biggest dug dealer, but can they prove it?”
To the embarrassment of the cops, Barnes was being billed as not only the biggest drug dealer in America but someone who was proud of it. He behaved like a superstar acting as if he was beyond the law and untouchable. With the fancy clothes, fancy cars and fancy women, he was the real deal, the Original Gangster.
When President Jimmy Carter saw Barnes’ picture taunting him from the cover of the New York Times he ordered an all-out effort to convict him. First they went after him for tax evasion but Barnes paid his taxes, he filed over $250,000 a year for "miscellaneous income". Then they tried to turn the community against him but discovered Barnes was Harlem’s answer to Robin Hood. He gave money and food to the community and was even the deacon of his local church – where he would hand out turkeys and gifts on Thanksgiving.
But despite his good deeds and tax payments, he was still a Kingpin who made millions from his heroin enterprise. In 1977 the authorities finally got their man, Barnes was charged with drug trafficking, found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. At the time, he was so feared that the judge in the case took the unprecedented step of ordering that the names of the jurors be kept secret for their own protection. Federal prosecutors warned that Barnes was responsible for a series of murders, that he would kill with impunity – this was America’s first anonymous jury trial.
In 1981, five years after Barnes was convicted, he made a dramatic U-turn. Barnes had discovered that his drug partners were not only cheating him out of money on deals (which he was still directing from the inside) but also sleeping with his wife and his girlfriend and worst of all taking drugs in front of his two young daughters. Barnes decided to take revenge and offered to work with the federal authorities to set his former partners up.
For the next fifteen months he worked deep undercover against his friends and lovers. From his prison cell he worked with the authorities and to trap those that had betrayed him. Collaborating with the feds, Barnes told them everything they needed to know and helped direct their covert NARC operations.
His defection to the other side was so complete that once he started, Barnes sang like a canary. He spent seven straight years testifying against his former colleagues and ultimately helped to convict over 50 drug dealers and murders - making him the most successful turncoat in US history.
He gave information about terrorists involved in robberies and prison escapes and about the planned murder of public officials including President Ronald Regan. He testified before congressional and presidential commissions on narcotics, giving life saving tips to undercover NARCS and alerted officials to how prisoners deal drugs both on the street and from jailhouse phones.
But after his historic co-operation became public Barnes was sent to the Witness Protection Unit at Otisville prison in NY for his own protection. His daughters were also scooped up and given a new identity, after a $1 million dollar hit was put out on them as revenge for their fathers’ betrayal. Barnes thrived at Otisville, he graduated from college, won a national poetry contest and worked hard to turn his life around.
Despite much praise from law enforcement officials, including former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Barnes repeatedly had his request for release denied. But eventually after considerable pressure a judge decided that there was a strong public interest in rewarding Barnes' epic cooperation and reduced his sentence. In 1998 after 21 years inside Barnes was finally released from jail, given a new identity and relocated under the federal witness protection program.
Today, Barnes at 74, is as youthful and passionate as a man half his age. Frighteningly bright and articulate he is still angry at those who he says betrayed him and there is still a trace of the once ruthless crime boss. He no longer has to check the air on his tires to make sure the cops haven’t tried to slow him down. He doesn’t have to worry about heroin sales and Mafia suppliers. He is a regular family man, concerned with his daughters and grandchildren. Where once he strutted the streets the scourge of lawful society now he just concentrates on trying to lose the “prison shuffle” - that short-strided gait that comes from years of having no particular place to go.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
EXECUTIVE IN CHARGE OF PRODUCTION
“IT’S NOT A PRETTY PICTURE, BUT IT SURE IS A COMPELLING ONE.” – Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
“FINE AND FASCINATING, and operating with a truer street sense of the characters involved than ‘American Gangster’.” – Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
“FAST AND FURIOUS, and the main attraction is Nicky Barnes himself.” – Stephen Hunter, Washington Post
“A PIROUETTING, PINWHEELING, EYE-POPPING DOCUMENTARY.” – Ray Pride, Chicago New Times
“Adroitly edited and filled with fine music.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
“A gritty, entertaining documentary about the original “original gangster”.” – GQ
"AN ARRESTING, BARE-KNUCKLED LOOK AT THE BLOODY RISE AND SPECTACULAR FALL OF DRUG EMPEROR NICKY BARNES." - Keith Murphy, Vibe
“IT MAKES AMERICAN GANGSTER LOOK LIKE A FAIRY TALE. It’s the real deal, nothing Hollywood about it.”- Ben Lyons, E!
“A FASCINATING FIRST-PERSON ACCOUNT OF THE RISE, RULE, RAGE AND REVENGE OF DRUG KINGPIN NICKY BARNES.” – Michelle Orange, Village Voice
“An engrossing documentary that pulses with a quicksilver energy unmatched in many genre features. Fascinating, it takes its audience deep inside the heroin industry of the 1970’s.” – Brent Simon, LA City Beat