CTA Chairman Terry Peterson

Putting violent gang members in prison has been one of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top priorities.

But one of Emanuel’s top aides, CTA Chairman Terry Peterson, may have had a different priority in the mid-1990s: Lobbying for the early release of the imprisoned leader of the Gangster Disciples – one of the largest and deadliest street gangs in Chicago, the Better Government Association has learned.

In 1993, Peterson was chief of staff to then-Ald. Allan Streeter (17th), and Gangster Disciples boss Larry Hoover Sr. was in a Downstate Illinois prison, serving a 150- to 200-year sentence for murdering a man suspected of stealing drugs from the gang.

Hoover had already served 20 years of his term and was up for a crucial hearing in front of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, the government agency that has the power to grant or deny parole.

The BGA recently obtained a letter – on City Council letterhead and bearing the names of Peterson and Streeter – that asks the chairman of the prisoner review board for Hoover’s release on parole and portrays Hoover as something of a hero.

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Larry Hoover / Credit: AP photo/Chicago Sun-Times

Peterson, who is in the process of being reappointed to the CTA board by Emanuel, declined an interview request. But in a written statement, Peterson denied authoring or signing the letter.

The letter, provided by the review board, states: “I am writing to you as a concerned citizen to support the release of Mr. Larry Hoover who has demonstrated a sincere desire and effort in working for the improvement of the African American Community.”

“For example, Mr. Hoover was one of the first to sign the Peace Treaty to stop the killings in the African American Community, which has been very successful. Also Mr. Hoover has been very instrumental in working for the capture of the Chatham Community Rapist and working to assist in the apprehension of a serial killer in the Chatham area.” 

“I strongly urge you as Chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board to use your legal and executive powers to work for the release of this servant of the community.”

The review board turned down parole for Hoover.

In response to a BGA inquiry, Peterson released a brief statement through a CTA spokesman in which he denied authoring the letter – or even knowing of its existence until now, even though Streeter’s push for Hoover’s parole was widely reported in the mid-1990s, just before Streeter himself ended up in prison as part of an unrelated bribery scandal.

“Mr. Peterson had nothing to do with the letter in question,” according to the CTA statement. “He neither wrote the letter nor was aware of its existence. The signature on the letter is not Mr. Peterson’s – it was a facsimile apparently placed there by a staff member at the time. Chairman Peterson has never met and does not know Mr. Hoover, and had no involvement with the subject addressed in the letter.”

Peterson wouldn’t answer subsequent questions. He was appointed to the CTA by now-former Mayor Richard M. Daley and retained by Emanuel. Previously, Peterson served as alderman, the head of the Chicago Housing Authority and campaign manager for Daley.

Streeter, however, said in an interview Peterson’s explanation almost defies logic. Nobody in the office back then was signing paperwork for others without consent, and as chief of staff Peterson was involved in every significant issue and action, Streeter said.

Sounds as if Peterson is trying to “disassociate himself” with the past, Streeter added.

Tom Alexander, a spokesman for Emanuel, referred any response to the CTA.

Letter requesting Hoover’s release. Click here to read the letter.

At the time the letter was sent, Hoover and his allies were in the midst of a massive public-relations campaign to try to recast the Gangster Disciples as a group dedicated to peace, black empowerment and community renewal – and Hoover as an agent of progress, a changed man.

A number of black leaders, including former Mayor Eugene Sawyer, spoke and wrote in favor of Hoover’s release.

Many cops and prosecutors were skeptical, believing the gang was trying to sanitize its public image so it’d be easier to fulfill its true mission of making money by selling drugs.

That skepticism turned out well founded when, in 1995, federal prosecutors unleashed indictments accusing Hoover and reputed associates of engaging in a “continuing criminal enterprise.” Hoover and his underlings hadn’t changed their drug-dealing behavior after all, authorities found, and were simply changing tactics while continuing their violent ways.

Hoover ended up in a federal prison, sentenced to a life term. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

It is believed that Hoover’s grip on the Gangster Disciples has been greatly diminished because of his current imprisonment at a maximum-security Colorado correctional facility and because the gang no longer possesses the rigid organizational structure he had installed.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and Alden Loury. They can be reached at rherguth@bettergov.org or (312) 821-9030.