The real-life criminal defense attorney played by Russell Crowe in the 2007 film American Gangster lives a more casual life these days. The former detective and Essex County assistant prosecutor still practices law but only as a private criminal defense attorney. He also continues to speak out against the corrupt government and police forces in which he once served.
After graduating from Weequahic High School in Newark, NJ, Roberts served six years in the United States Marine Corps and reached the rank of sergeant. He then attended Upsala College and Rutgers University.
He was a key player on the team that busted up Harlem heroin kingpin Frank Lucas in the 1970s. The case was the inspiration for the 2007 film American Gangster starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
During his pursuit of Lucas, the film portrays him as being mired in personal child custody battles that may have compromised his dogged investigation. That aspect of the story was fabricated by director Ridley Scott, who sought to depict Roberts as an incorruptible cop from the street who is tackling an all-powerful mobster without the aid of the old Mafia networks.
The real-life Roberts is a street-smart prosecutor who has worked undercover to infiltrate the Genovese, Lucchese and Bruno crime families to help arrest members of organized crime. He is an expert on organized crime and has made hundreds of prosecutions. During his time in the narcotics squad, the movie portrays him as being street-smart and a dogged investigator of drug dealers like Lucas.