Leroy “Nicky” Barnes was first arrested in 1950 at the age of 17. He served 3 years in the Manhattan House of Corrections, then another 5 in Green Haven State Prison, then another 5 on drug possession charges that were reversed on appeal in 1971. While in prison, Barnes met a pair of Mafia figures – “Crazy” Joe Gallo from the Colombo family, Matthew Madonna from the Lucchese family – whose expertise in organized crime reshaped his approach to the heroin trade. Upon release, Barnes assembled numerous prominent African-American drug traffickers and formed The Council. The Council’s operations were a veritable carbon copy of the Mafia’s command structure.
Barnes repeatedly evaded prosecution, earning him the nickname “Mr. Untouchable.” When The New York Times Magazine featured Barnes beside that moniker on its cover in 1977, it sufficiently enflamed President Carter that he personally told Attorney General Griffin Bell to bring Barnes down. In less than a year, Barnes was sentenced to life in prison for operating a $50 million drug ring.
In 1982, Barnes turned informant. He would later cite the reason that a close associate had taken up with one of his girlfriends, which was against The Council’s code. Barnes first testified on March 15, 1983 against Nicholas Sperling. He identified 5 Council members in open court the following October. In all, Barnes aided in the indictment of 48 defendants. He spent most of his sentence in protective custody, and – after Federal prosecutors requested and secured a reduction of Barnes’s sentence – he entered witness protection when freed in August 1998.