Larry Hoover’s Gangster Disciples street gang empire in Chicago crumbled 25 years ago when a top lieutenant flipped and the government got innovative. Hoover was already behind bars on a murder conviction when he and 40 GD leaders and enforcers were brought down in 1995’s sprawling Operation Headache bust. The most damning evidence against Hoover came from tiny recording devices Hoover’s visitors were unknowingly wearing on their person as they conversed with him inside an Illinois state correctional facility.

Chicago rap legend Kanye West went to the White House last week to campaign for Hoover’s release via a Presidential Pardon, speaking with President Donald Trump extensively (and often minus context and critical facts) about Hoover’s predicament – serving six life sentences in a Supermax facility in Colorado. At the height of Hoover’s reign, the GDs were the biggest street gang in the Midwest, with roughly 30,000 soldiers on the books.

In the months before the indictment for Operation Headache was filed in August 1995, amid rumors swirling about the pending case and who was cooperating, gang members Charles (Jello) Banks and Darryl (D-Blunt) Johnson, were executed in an effort by GD brass to clean up loose ends. Johnson and Banks had been arrested in the same 1994 drug case. Banks was a high-ranking Hoover lieutenant on the street and his work with the DEA was the final nail in Hoover’s proverbial coffin, making sure he’d never see the light of day again. Johnson’s attorney reached out to prosecutors about securing a cooperation deal in the weeks preceding his slaying.

Hoover formed the Gangster Disciples in 1969 on the South Side of Chicago when he merged his Supreme Gangster gang with David Barksdale’s Black Disciples gang. He ordered the February 1973 murder of William (Pookie) Young after discovering Young had stolen from the gang and in November of that year was found guilty in Young’s homicide and sentenced to life in prison. Barksdale died of kidney failure in 1974, complications from a bullet wound suffered years earlier, and Hoover began running the gang from his prison cell, first in Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, then Vienna Correctional Center in Johnson County on the south side of the state and finally out of Dixon Correctional Center in Lee County in northern Illinois.

By the early 1990, Hoover was sending his orders through GD street boss Gregory (Shorty G) Shell. Shell and Hoover’s main enforcer was the gang’s No. 3 in charge, Darryl (Pops) Johnson, no relation to D-Blunt Johnson. Shell headquartered out of a fried-seafood joint, June’s Shrimp on the 9 and refused to talk business on the phone. DEA agents would trail Shell and other prominent GD dignitaries the six-hour drive from Chicago’s South Side to the state prison in Vienna where Hoover held court in a visiting room.

The DEA eventually bugged the visitor badges worn by Hoover’s lieutenants and listened to two months of conversations in late 1993, collecting a treasure trove of incriminating discussions on the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Hoover spoke of a street tax for non GDs engaging in criminal activity on the South Side. He wanted profits from one day a week of drug sales as tribute and instructed Shell to use violence if necessary.

“Do a survey around town, I want to know what everybody is doing, heroin, reefer, cocaine, whose moving what….This is our land. We fought battles on this land. So everybody is going to have to pay taxes, you know. That’s just the way it is. You tell everyone, if we have to start shooting and fucking shit up that way, then nobody making any money. All I’m asking for is one measly day.”

Jello Banks, a tubby and talkative middle manager in the gang, soon began his work as a double agent, spying for the feds to get out of his dope pinch. Banks helped the DEA get taps on cell phones used by Shell and Pops Johnson and search warrants for key GD business fronts, like Hoover’s girlfriend’s rap-concert promotion office where a hand-written GD hierarchy chart was confiscated from a file cabinet.

Hoover’s camp had paid moles of its own feeding them information. Shell’s lover was a Chicago policewoman assigned to the gang unit. Johnson’s attorney had someone inside the government providing him details of ongoing investigations focusing on GD Nation. Within hours of DEA agents planting a video surveillance device inside Shell’s June’s Shrimp on the 9 , Shell came storming into the restaurant and ripped the device, which was hidden under a clock, down off the wall.

“You ain’t got shit on me and you ain’t gonna to get shit on me,” he hollered into the camera before dismantling it.

Pops Johnson got word in the spring of 1995 that Jello Banks and D-Blunt Johnson were informants. Banks was, Johnson was trying to be. Nevertheless, Pops put murder contracts on both their heads. According to informants, Hoover and Shell signed off on the contracts, but only Johnson would go on to be indicted and convicted for them as part of Operation Headache.

D-Blunt Johnson was gunned down May 7, 1995. Jello Banks was slain June 9, 1995, shot to death on the same street corner off Ashland Avenue as D-Blunt Johnson had been a month before.

The Operation Headcase case hit on the morning of August 31, 1995. Hoover was awoken by DEA agents inside his cell at Dixon Correctional Center and taken back to Chicago for booking and arraignment on a government airplane. It was the first time the legendary street gang overlord flew on a plane. He was found guilty at a 1997 trial. Today, he is 68.

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