|Larry Huggins / Credit: John J. Kim~Sun-Times|
In the mid-1990s, Winndye Jenkins ran a concert-promotion business that federal authorities alleged was used by the Gangster Disciples to launder drug money.
Also around that time Jenkins was serving as a “conduit” between the street gang’s imprisoned leader – Larry Hoover Sr., her long-time boyfriend and son’s father – and his underlings on the outside, relaying messages and orders, court records say.
As a broader investigation of the Gangster Disciples unfolded, Jenkins was not charged with any crime. But Hoover Sr. was. He was convicted and will likely spend the rest of his days in a high-security prison.
Turns out Jenkins found sanctuary in a much more hospitable place: A construction company run by Larry Huggins, a government contractor, fundraiser for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and, until recently, member of Metra’s troubled board of directors, the Better Government Association has learned.
Jenkins has been employed by Riteway-Huggins Construction Services, Inc. – a South Side firm owned by Huggins – for at least several years and works in a clerical capacity, according to interviews. In brief conversations, she indicated she was still in touch with Hoover, who has been described in press accounts as her “common-law” husband. They have at least one child together.
Through an attorney and a spokesman, Huggins told the BGA he has no ties to the elder Hoover, has never met him, and strives to provide economic opportunities and positive mentoring to members of the black community.
“Larry Huggins has been a business, civic and community leader in Chicago for decades and has always operated with integrity with people from all walks of life,” his attorney, James Montgomery, said in a written statement. “Mr. Huggins believes job opportunities are the best way to strengthen communities and provide young people with alternatives to crime.”
|Larry Hoover / Credit: AP photo/Chicago Sun-Times|
A BGA review found some of those economic opportunities have benefitted Hoover’s family – the latest curiosity to emerge in the wake of a patronage scandal at Metra, where Huggins and several fellow members of the board recently resigned under pressure. They were accused of trying to inject politics into personnel decisions at the taxpayer-funded rail agency, and forcing out Metra’s then-CEO Alex Clifford when he resisted their overtures.
Aside from employing Jenkins, the BGA found Huggins’ company has partnered on at least one construction project with a now-defunct company run by Jenkins, called Busy Hands & Feet Construction Co., Inc., according to a 2007 federal lawsuit filed against Riteway by pension officials.
In a deposition related to the lawsuit, Huggins relayed that Busy Hands handled the drywall for Riteway on a project at or near a public-housing development. According to a transcript of the deposition, he indicated the two companies have a deeper history.
An attorney questioning Huggins asked, “Let me just ask you a few questions about Busy Hands and Feet. Obviously you’re familiar with the company. You’ve subbed some work out for them and some of their employees have been on your payroll. They also perform office maintenance work for you, is that correct?”
Huggins responded: “Yes.”
|258 E. 115th St.|
Busy Hands was incorporated in 1999 and dissolved in 2005, according to Illinois secretary of state records. Its primary address was 258 E. 115th St., a two-story building formerly owned by Huggins, according to state and Cook County records.
County records indicate Huggins transferred ownership to a trust in September 1998.
In paperwork filed with the secretary of state and dated in October 1998, another company operated by Jenkins – Ghetto Prisoner Clothing Inc., which sold shirts bearing the image and prison number of Hoover – listed the building on publicly accessible corporation documents as its location.
In 2004 the trust sold the land for roughly $105,000 to Larry Hoover Jr., the son of Jenkins and Larry Hoover Sr., according to county records and interviews.
Montgomery’s statement also indicates Huggins first met the younger Hoover “as a young man looking for an entry level job in construction.”
Hoover Jr., 39, could not be reached for comment. Jenkins confirmed her interest in Busy Hands, said she did not recall whether she rented the 115th Street property directly from Huggins and indicated her son “doesn’t want to talk to you guys.”
As for the elder Hoover, Jenkins said, “He’s a father . . . he’s a human being, not an animal in a cage.”
The BGA sent a letter with a series of questions to the elder Hoover. He responded by writing, “I have never met Mr. Huggins nor communicated with him in any form. . . . With regards to any business relationship Mr. Huggins has with my family, I have no knowledge of any transactions other than the building my son acquired.”
Last month, the day after the BGA first posed questions to Huggins about the 63-year-old Jenkins, he resigned from the Metra board, but it’s unclear whether the questions played a role in that decision.
Huggins was appointed to Metra’s board in 1997 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and was re-appointed in 2012 by the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel has said he asked Huggins to leave so the transit agency could have a fresh start.
Huggins, his companies and joint ventures have donated more than $400,000 to local political funds – including those benefitting Preckwinkle, her predecessor Todd Stroger, Chicago Ald. Ed Burke and ex-state Senate President Emil Jones – over the past 20 years, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Over the past two decades, Huggins’ company also has been involved in local government projects with price tags totaling at least $300 million. Riteway often served as a minority partner or sub-contractor, helping with the construction or renovation of bridges, roads, airport facilities and municipal buildings.
At the time of Hoover’s mid-1990s criminal case, Jenkins was running “Save the Children Promotions Corp.,” which was used by Hoover Sr.’s gang to launder drug money, court records show. Specifically, gang members who were expected to give a cut of drug revenues to gang leaders were encouraged to do so by buying tickets to music events sponsored by Jenkins’ group, court records show. At this time, Jenkins was described in an affidavit from a Drug Enforcement Administration agent as a “conduit” between the jailed Hoover and gang underlings on the outside.
In 1997, Hoover Sr., while already locked up for a murder, was convicted in the federal case of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise – the Gangster Disciples’ massive illegal drug operation believed to generate more than $100 million annually. Hoover, now 62, is serving his life term at a Colorado “super-max” facility.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and Alden Loury, who can be reached at (312) 821-9030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.