Chicago Black Disciples gang kingpin Marvel Thompson: I’m sorry for my life of crime
Asking a judge to go free under the federal First Step Act midway through his 45-year prison term, the would-be Robin Hood of Englewood offered an unusual public apology.
In his own mind, Marvel Thompson was the self-styled Robin Hood of Englewood, feeding the poor and encouraging kids on the South Side to stay in school.
To federal authorities, though, he was the king of a violent gang involved in selling drugs and mortgage fraud.
The FBI arrested Thompson in 2004. When he pleaded guilty the next year, he admitted only that he’d sold drugs: “As far as the ‘king’ and all that, I’ve told them a thousand times that’s not me.”
Still, Thompson got 45 years in prison. Now he’s trying to get out —22 years early. And he has written a letter to the judge who’ll decide whether to free him, saying he’s sorry for his “illegal misdeeds” — and for using drug profits to try to do some good.
“In my mind at the time, my criminal undertakings, and fruits thereof, were legitimately used to pay rent for poorer families, pay for cloths [sic] for poorer children, and buy them school supplies and otherwise aid, financially, those in need in the community,” Thompson wrote.
“You cannot simultaneously build up and destroy that which you purport to love.
“I embarked on a path of illegal misdeeds that would eventually completely destroy not only my life, but the lives of every person I ever loved or cared about —including those in my community I most identified [with] based upon our common experience of living poor.”
Thompson never admits in the letter that he was the leader of the Black Disciples.
The nine-page, handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo is part of a recent court filing seeking Thompson’s release under the 2018 First Step Act, which allows prisoners to seek sentence reductions based on changes in federal drug laws that came after they went to prison.
Prosecutors oppose his bid to halve his sentence, writing: “Thompson led one of the largest and most violent gangs in the city. Gang activity and the gang lifestyle he championed continues to plague the communities he victimized.”
Three of his co-defendants have been freed. And another top Black Disciples leader, Donnell Jehan, 52, got his 25-year sentence reduced to 20 years and is set to be released in 2025.
Prosecutors routinely object to early-release requests made under the First Step Act, which was passed with broad support that included Republicans, Democrats, Kanye West and the ACLU. Despite that, federal judges in Chicago have approved more than 60% of the requests they have ruled on under that law, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last month.
Thompson, being held at a federal prison in downstate Pekin, is among the most notorious of hundreds of Chicago criminals looking for a break under the First Step Act. In the 1990s, he became “king” of the Black Disciples, one of Chicago’s biggest gangs, succeeding imprisoned Jerome “Shorty” Freeman, according to prosecutors.
They say the gang is now splintered into factions but that, back then, Thompson was the unquestioned boss.
The case against Thompson showed he ordered a member of his gang to be shot in the hand for disobeying an order, and his underlings were accused of beating and killing gang members who didn’t follow the rules.
Thompson owned a record company and laundered drug proceeds through more than a dozen properties, according to prosecutors, who said he used the buildings in a mortgage-fraud scheme even as he was giving his time and money to community organizations. He even posed for photos with Mayor Richard M. Daley and President George W. Bush.
In his letter, Thompson said he was raised by a single teenage mother. He wrote that their belongings got tossed out when they were evicted for not paying rent and that older criminals became his father figures.
“They believed just as I, once, that positive change can come from illegal means,” he wrote. “I have come to know that that is an illusion.”
Thompson said he visited kids in school, trying to be a role model, but now regrets that: “Although the visits and support may have done some good, I can see the young men thinking ‘selling drugs and the street life made Marvel like this — and I want to be just like him.’ ”
In prison, Thompson said, he’s learned carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills and hopes to return to his family and work in “community outreach.”
“I realized that I needed to contribute to the efforts to curb the violence that the people of my community were inflicting upon each other,” he wrote.
And Thompson said that, if he goes free, he won’t return to the gang — not that he could after cooperating with prosecutors: “My cooperation with the United States government has been made public, which fully and finally severed my criminal ties.”