Larry Hoover tries again for sentencing break, says he wants ‘nothing to do’ with Gangster Disciples
A judge last year declined a request from Hoover for a lower sentence under the First Step Act. But the judge gave the Gangster Disciples founder room to try again.
A man labeled “one of the most notorious criminals in Illinois history” has renewed his bid to undo the life sentence he’s serving in the federal supermax prison in Colorado, and he claims to have renounced the violent street gang he once led.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber last year declined a request from Gangster Disciples founder Larry Hoover for a lower sentence under the First Step Act, a law signed by President Donald Trump in 2018. But in doing so, the judge gave Hoover room to try again.
Now, Hoover has taken advantage of that opportunity. In a pair of letters to the judge and the public filed late Wednesday in Chicago’s federal court, Hoover wrote in a rare public comment that he is “no longer the Larry Hoover people sometimes talk about, or he who is written about in the papers, or the crime figure described by the government.”
If Hoover, 71, is successful in undoing his federal life sentence, he would still have a state murder sentence to serve — and he’d likely do so in the federal prison system. But prosecutors have expressed concern that Hoover would next launch legal attacks on that case.
Former prosecutor Ron Safer has said Hoover “ran a gang from prison that was responsible for the highest murder rate this city has ever seen, a drug network that was pervasive and efficient, and an organization that controlled parks and street corners in neighborhoods and made it impossible for children to go outside and be children.”
In his letters, Hoover wrote that the feds’ supermax prison has been called “as close to Hell as possible,” and he agreed. He acknowledged being aware “anecdotally that some misguided people” hold him up as a symbol. And he wrote, “I wish this were not so.”
“Regardless, these people are apart from me and do what they do with zero encouragement or direction from me,” Hoover wrote. “To be clear, if I had any ability to influence them, I’d ask that they’d forget me and forsake the gang life forever.”
Hoover wrote that he took responsibility for his past, adding that he “was lost in an enduring pattern of criminality those many years ago.” But he wrote, “I have long since renounced my association with any and all criminal organizations and their membership.”
“I am no longer a member, leader, or even an elder statesman of the Gangster Disciples,” Hoover wrote. “I want nothing to do with it now and forever.”
Hoover’s claims run contrary to recent allegations by federal prosecutors. Early last year, an indictment in East St. Louis alleged that Hoover promoted two men to top posts in the Gangster Disciples while he was locked up in the supermax prison.
The indictment charged others with crimes, but not Hoover.
Chicago’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney John Lausch, also made an unusual direct plea to Leinenweber in July 2020, telling him it would be a “miscarriage of justice to reduce [Hoover’s] sentence in any way, shape or form.”
“It simply makes no sense now to give him a chance to run the Gangster Disciples,” Lausch said.
But attorneys Jennifer Bonjean and Justin Moore wrote in a new motion that “the Larry Hoover who graces the cover of the government’s opposition papers … died long ago, notwithstanding the government’s unfounded claim that he harbors a desire to reclaim his title as the king of the Gangster Disciples, an enterprise that bears little resemblance to the organization he built in the 1970s.”
Bonjean, who on Tuesday filed an appearance on Hoover’s behalf, is the attorney who helped free actor Bill Cosby and now represents R&B singer and convicted sexual predator R. Kelly.
Hoover ordered a murder in 1973 that led to his conviction in state court and a sentence of 150 to 200 years in Illinois’ prison system. There, the feds say he ran a $100 million-a-year drug business as tens of thousands of gang soldiers continued to work for him in Chicago and other cities.
A federal investigation then led to Hoover’s conviction for running a criminal enterprise. Leinenweber gave Hoover a life sentence in 1998 at the end of a hearing that prompted a finger-pointing confrontation between the two men. Leinenweber told Hoover the charisma he used to gain the loyalty of thousands was proof he could have been a great man.
“You misused a great gift that you received from God,” Leinenweber told Hoover that day.