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Gangster Disciples leader Larry Hoover, center, with top gang lieutenant Gregory Shell (left) and gang associate Keith McCain.
Gangster Disciples leader Larry Hoover, center, with top gang lieutenant Gregory Shell (left) and gang associate Keith McCain. U.S. District Court, Atlanta
U.S. District Court, Atlanta

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Chicago gang kingpin Larry Hoover’s bad behavior could keep him from cutting life sentence

Held in the same super-max prison where ‘El Chapo’ is locked up, the Gangster Disciples kingpin wants a break under the First Step Act that Kanye West championed.

Chicago gang kingpin Larry Hoover has been locked up for nearly a quarter of a century at the federal super-maximum prison in Florence, Colorado — a modern-day Alcatraz that also holds the likes of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera and the Unabomber.

The prison is known for its harsh discipline. And the onetime “kingpin” of the Gangster Disciples has gotten in serious trouble a few times, according to federal prosecutors, who now have made the details of those disciplinary violations public in an effort to keep Hoover from getting a break on his life sentence.

Hoover has been accused of:

  • Holding down an inmate while another inmate punched him for eight minutes.
  • Using a secret code to communicate with a fellow gang member.
  • Threatening to set fires and flood prison cells to get fellow gang members a better recreation space.

In a court filing in Chicago, prosecutors say Hoover’s bad behavior behind bars is one reason for U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to deny his request for a reduction in his life sentence under the federal First Step Act.

That law, signed by President Donald Trump in 2018 with encouragement from rapper Kanye West, allows inmates to take advantage of court rulings and changes in the law since they were sent to prison to seek a reduced sentence.

This is a coded message intended for Larry Hoover from a fellow Gangster Disciples member in the federal super-max prison in Colorado, prison officials say. Hoover was disciplined because of the message.
This is a coded message intended for Larry Hoover from a fellow Gangster Disciples member in the federal super-max prison in Colorado, prison officials say. Hoover was disciplined because of the message.
U.S. District Court

Two of Hoover’s top lieutenants in the Gangster Disciples — Johnny “Crusher” Jackson and William Edwards — have been released from prison under the First Step Act. Hoover’s former No. 2 in the gang, Gregory “Shorty G” Shell, also is seeking a sentence reduction.

Hoover was sent to state prison in 1973, given a 200-year sentence for ordering the killing of a gang member he suspected was stealing from him.

But he continued to run his gang from prison. At one time, the gang grew to up to 30,000 members and was selling more than $100 million in drugs a year, officials say.

In 1997, he was sentenced to life in federal prison for running a criminal enterprise. If he were to get out of federal prison as a result of his current appeal, he would still have to serve out his state murder sentence with the Illinois Department of Corrections.

In court papers filed Friday, federal prosecutors opposed Hoover’s appeal, saying he has shown signs of trying to run the gang from inside the federal supermax prison in Colorado.

Larry Hoover, 1994.
Larry Hoover, chairman of the Gangster Disciples, 1994.
Sun-Times file

They also said he isn’t the model prisoner he claims to be. Prosecutors called Hoover “the most notorious gang leader in Chicago’s modern history.”

“Simply put, reducing Hoover’s sentence to anything less than life imprisonment would send shockwaves through the community,” the prosecution filing said. “Gang members will be emboldened, and the rest of the community will worry that Hoover’s return to [Illinois Department of Corrections] custody — where he remains subject to a life sentence for murder — puts him back in a position from which he directed the gang’s operations for decades.”

According to prison records that prosecutors put in the court file, Hoover threatened to start fires and flood cells in a federal prison in Indiana unless officials allowed his fellow inmates from Chicago to congregate in a large recreation cage. Hoover denied he was planning a demonstration.

Guards walk along the fence at the super-maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, where Larry Hoover is being held. 
Guards walk along the fence at the super-maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, where Larry Hoover is being held.
Getty Images

Then, at the Colorado supermax, prosecutors said Hoover was caught on video in 1997 restraining one inmate while another punched him in the face and torso for eight minutes. They said the attacker can be seen on the video reaching for a drain, where a homemade knife was later recovered. As a result of the attack, Hoover lost his TV and commissary privileges for a few months.

In 2015, officials at the Colorado supermax said they discovered Hoover and a fellow gang member in the prison were communicating with Merriam-Webster’s pocket dictionaries they had in their cells. The officials found codes in the other inmate’s cell and were able to decipher one message to Hoover.

It said: “Chief, this code is very important … Whenever we see a word with a small dash in front, we do not count that word. We only count the whole word that is the farthest over to the left. We also count every single letter. Only we know this code. Nobody else does. We communicate in plain sight. I am ready to handle your business.”

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on the bench in 2013.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on the bench in 2013.
AP illustration

Again, Hoover lost a few months of commissary privileges for the infraction.

“Your admission that you were planning to communicate is clearly an admission to attempt to engage in the misconduct described,” prison officials said in a memo to Hoover.

Also in 2015, Hoover asked a visitor to send him information about Gangster Disciples members he suspected were cooperating with law enforcement, prosecutors said. And they said a visitor discussed starting a clothing line called “Gentlemen of Distinguished Nature” — a reference to the Gangster Disciples Nation.

Larry Hoover wrote this response to federal prison officials in 2017 after they said he violated prison rules forbidding “gang communication.”
Larry Hoover wrote this response to federal prison officials in 2017 after they said he violated prison rules forbidding “gang communication.”
U.S. District Court

“It is believed that inmate Hoover is attempting to run, control and guide the actions of the GD organization from inside of the ADX,” a prison official wrote, referring to the supermax in Colorado.

In 2017, Hoover got in trouble for telling a visitor about the need to republish the “Blueprint,” which the gang distributed in 1995 to promote “growth and development.”

Hoover said he wanted the Blueprint handed out to children. Prison officials said he was guilty of “gang communication,” but Hoover said he was simply discussing a publication whose purpose is “to move the youth away from gang mentality.”

Hoover noted that U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., visited him in prison in 2016 and that they discussed the “Blueprint.”

“He came to me asking for any input that I could offer in aide [sic] of stemming the violence in Chicago,” Hoover wrote.

Justin Moore, one of Hoover’s lawyers, has said state prison would be a better place for Hoover than the supermax in Colorado, which he described as the “worst prison in the country.”

Larry Hoover.
Larry Hoover.
Sun-Times file

Contributing: Jon Seidel

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