Fact vs. Fiction; DEA Agents Sue Over ‘American Gangster’

Uh oh! Here we go again. Another group of people suing the movies for falsely depicting them in a movie. This has happened before, many times and to no avail. (See Another Borat Lawsuit). According to the Associated Press, a group of retired federal drug enforcement agents sued NBC Universal on Wednesday, saying the movie “American Gangster” falsely portrayed them as villains in the story of a Harlem heroin trafficker.But, is this case different than the others?

The suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, claims that the movie defamed hundreds of DEA agents and New York City police officers by claiming at the end that Frank Lucas’ collaboration with prosecutors “led to the convictions of three-quarters of New York City’s Drug Enforcement Agency.” (Source)

Is this just another case of Hollywood distorting reality? New York City Police Department spokesman Paul Browne thinks it is. However, according to NBC Universal Senior Vice President David Burg, the film is a “fictionalized work.”

According to the Complaint

The defamation involved the defendant NBC Universal, through its Universal Studios, falsely communicating, in writing, to millions of people in a motion picture called American Gangster that three quarters of New York City’s DEA, from approximately 1973 through approximately 1985, were convicted criminals. 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 who have already been exposed to this defamation and damaged them in their current trades and professions, and, if not stopped by an injunction, will further ruin and impugn their reputations in the eyes of millions more who are about to be exposed to the defamation, and will further damage them in their current trades and professions.

The Complaint seeks relief for the following:

a. Ordering a preliminary and permanent injunction enjoining and estraining defendant, and all its officers and agents, servants, and employees, and all those persons in active concert or articipation with them form directly or indirectly using, distributing or showing American Gangster to anyone else with the false legend;

b. Ordering the defendant to recall each copy of American Gangster that contains the false legend;

c. Ordering that defendant immediately deliver up all signs, prints, packages, and advertisements in its possession or under its control bearing the false legend;

d. Ordering restitution of all moneys obtained directly or indirectly by defendant by means of this improper conduct;

e. Ordering defendant to disgorge all its profits from American Gangster;

f. Ordering defendant to publish in the same media outlets in which it defamed Plaintiffs and the Plaintiff Class the truth about the New York City DEA’s role in the investigation, arrest
and prosecution of Frank Lucas;

g. With respect to each cause of action awarding compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial, but at least in an amount of $5,000,000 exclusive of interests and costs;

h. With respect to the first and second cause of action awarding punitive damages of $50,000.000;

i. Awarding prejudgment interest pursuant to Title 28, USC Section 1961(a);

j. Awarding costs and attorneys’ fees in an amount to be determined at trial;

If you’re interested, here’s the American Gangster Complaint.


3 responses to “Fact vs. Fiction; DEA Agents Sue Over ‘American Gangster’

  • AL (AJ) Pierce

    It will be very interesting what happens in this case. I will be further looking into this case to see if the plantiffs receive all they are requesting. Maybe they will not receive a dime. Cases such as these really excite me.

  • Jeri Harms

    This lawsuit is crazy. A person or company cannot be stopped in making a movie (or even writing a story) which was based on a legend. If so, we sure wouldn’t have the entertainment we have today (through movies or books!).

  • Tasia

    Well Slander is really not acceptable! Yes Hollywood has 1st Amendment rights along with the right to be artistic & creative. But, does this justify harming someone or a group of peoples reputation with slanderous means? Since when is it okay to Say things that are false or that discredit a group of people or individuals? Where do you draw the line on creativity? I wonder wouldn’t it be possible to make movies,write books, newspaper articles, or speeches that don’t discredit or slander certain groups of people or individuals? If you really must write something that is derogatory about an individual or group of individuals there are plenty that have been convicted of disgusting crimes within our legal system, and you have the proof right at your fingertips. I would imagine there is plenty of material out there without accusing a group or individual of some unpleasant behavior or actions, which you have no proof of or any court ruling on…

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