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Seven gang members convicted on drug charges

May 10, 1997 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) _ Seven members of one of the largest street gangs in the country were convicted Friday of running a drug ring that prosecutors estimated raked in $100 million a year.

Jurors deliberated two days before convicting the defendants, including Larry Hoover, the admitted leader of the Gangster Disciples, of all 42 counts of conspiracy to distribute drugs. They all could face life in prison.

Hoover, already serving a 200-year sentence for murder, listened impassively to the jury’s decision along with his co-defendants. Relatives wept as the verdicts were read, one by one.

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``This is a big step toward the destruction of the hierarchy of one of the biggest and most powerful gangs in the country,″ U.S. Attorney James Burns said.

The charges, which range from conspiracy to illegal use of the telephone, stem from an August 1995 roundup of Gangster Disciple leaders and followers after a six-year investigation.

The gang started as a band of neighborhood toughs in Chicago’s run-down Englewood area three decades ago and grew into a far-flung organization. Police think the gang has 30,000 members in as many as 35 states who are better organized than the Los Angeles-based Crips and Bloods.

Federal prosecutors argued that Hoover directed the gang’s drug sales for 21 years from state prison, and used as the crux of their case dozens of hours of audiotapes of Hoover giving orders to gang underlings.

The tapes were made inside with the aid of a wafer-thin microphone attached to visitor’s passes.

Defense attorney Anita Rivkin Carothers argued the Disciples were trying to become a positive force in the community, noting that a Disciples-backed group called 21st Century V.O.T.E. (Voices of Total Empowerment) has added the names of thousands of young black men and women to the voter rolls in recent years.

Prosecutors called the group’s good works tainted because they were financed by drug money, and said concerts and other events were used to launder drug proceeds.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Ronald Safer pointed to a prison tape on which Hoover tells an associate, ``I’d like to get to the point where I could stop selling drugs.″

Declared the prosecutor: ``What more do you need? He’s doing it. He says so. He’s selling drugs.″

The other men convicted were Gregory Shell, the gang’s second in command; Andrew Howard, a gang board member; two so-called governors, Jerry Strawhorn and Tirenzy Wilson; and two reputed drug wholesalers, Darrell Branch and Adrian Bradd.