CHICAGO - The little shop on 79th Street wasn't just a beauty parlor. While
customers sat under dryers upstairs, the Gangster Disciples street gang was
mercilessly beating one of its own members in the basement.
It was just one instance of how the gang's kangaroo courts can mete out a
touch of the macabre along with punishment. This one was so harsh it stunned
Larry Hoover, the convict accused of running the city's biggest and most
powerful street gang from his prison cell.
"He beat him like that, just for not answering his beeper?" asks an
incredulous Hoover in tapes played at his trial on charges of conspiracy to
flood Chicago streets with cocaine, heroin and marijuana.
The trial this month of Hoover and six other alleged Disciples has
spotlighted the Gangster Disciples - with an estimated 30,000 members and
branches in 35 states - as their influence grew from seedy drug corners to the
state prison system and Chicago politics.
The prosecution is the spearhead of federal efforts to crack down on the
gang, and also has shed light on the depressing, futile inner life of the
The gang had its own language. Cocaine was "girl," heroin "boy." Dope also
was "work." Dope owned by leaders was "nation work." Pushers had
helpers "on their count." Pushing was "serving" and one day a week,
witnesses say, everyone "on the count" had to "serve nation work."
Former Disciple McKinley Hayden testified that he made up to $1 million a
month and bought "some Benzes" as well as Cadillacs for six friends. Onetime
Hoover girlfriend Bertha Mosby, now in federal prison, said she bought cars,
clothes, jewelry and real estate after Hoover told her where to get cocaine for
The defendants were among 39 indicted in 1995 after a six-year
investigation. Eight, including a former Chicago gang crimes policewoman, were
convicted at a 1996 trial.
But the current trial may mean more because it focuses on Hoover and
co-defendants prosecutors describe as members of the gang's high council.
They are: Gregory Shell, the alleged No. 2 Gangster Disciple, Tirenzy
Wilson, Andrew Howard, Jerry Strawhorn, Darrel Branch and Adrian Bradd.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Safer has played profanity-drenched tapes of the
husky, bearded gang leader, made with a wafer-thin transmitter secretly placed
on visitor tags at Vienna Correctional Center in Southern Illinois.
Hoover acknowledges his status as top Gangster Disciple. But he calls the
conspiracy charge an effort to prove guilt by association.
"This is America," declares defense attorney Anita Rivkin-Carothers. "You
can't get charged and convicted for belonging to an organization."
"Not if it's the Gangster Disciples, not if it's the John Birch Society, not
if it's the Ku Klux Klan," she adds.
Hoover also says he has reformed and wants to turn the "GDs" toward
wholesome "growth and development" - a claim police dismiss as
The cruel discipline that marks Gangster Disciples life carries over into
prisons as well, witnesses say. Punishments range from a mild "mouth shot" to
the much-feared "pumpkin head."
The phrase was defined by former Stateville Correctional Center guard
Anthony Brown, who said he was once summoned to the cell of a convict who had
flouted Hoover's elaborate code of conduct for gang members.
"Guy's head was swole up big as a pumpkin," Brown testified.
He told how Hoover roamed freely behind Stateville's fortress-like walls,
flanked by Gangster Disciple bodyguards armed with knives made from buckets and
Brown said Hoover was consulted by prison officials on how to keep order. In
turn, he got privileges such as hot meals delivered to his cell.
"Larry was treated differently and walked around freely," he said. "He was
treated with the utmost respect by everyone - guards, staff."
Meanwhile, guards were making up to $1,000 a week smuggling marijuana and
cocaine into the fortress-like prison near Joliet while pocketing $50 a session
to let inmates have sex with visitors, Brown testified.
Hovering over the trial like an unofficial Hoover press secretary has been
Wallace "Gator" Bradley. He is a former Gangster Disciple who got executive
clemency after serving a burglary term in Stateville two decades ago, and two
years ago drew the spotlight with an unsuccessful Chicago aldermanic race.
Bradley's campaign was bankrolled by 21st Century V.O.T.E. (Voice of Total
Empowerment), a group Hoover established as part of what he calls his drive for
growth and development in the community.
But McKinley Hayden - the pusher turned witness - testified that he was
forced to turn over drug money to the political group and feared that if he
didn't, he would be beaten by gang enforcers until he paid.