(Copyright May 24th, 2000 by the Chicago Tribune by Matt O'Connor, Tribune Staff Writer)

A high-ranking Gangster Disciple leader was convicted Tuesday of playing a key role in the gang's multimillion-dollar narcotics distribution.

Johnny "Crusher" Jackson was among the 39 defendants indicted with gang leader Larry Hoover in 1995, but he spent 4 1/2 years on the run before he was arrested in January working in a cheese factory in Wisconsin.

A federal jury deliberated most of the day before convicting Jackson on 17 narcotics-related counts and acquitting him on nine other counts.

Jackson was found guilty of narcotics conspiracy, the most serious charge and one that likely carries a sentence of life in prison.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber didn't immediately set a sentencing date.

Prosecutors David Styler and John Kocoras said Jackson held the rank in the Gangster Disciples of board member, among the gang's half- dozen most powerful members outside prison.

Between 1991 and 1995, Jackson, a trusted confidant of Hoover's, visited Hoover 173 times in state prison, where he was serving time for a murder conviction and still running the gang, according to prosecutors.

During three of those visits in November 1993, authorities hid a tiny transmitter in Jackson's visitor's badge and taped his conversations with Hoover.

On those tapes, Hoover discussed the gang's drug-dealing in detail with Jackson, according to Styler.

Prosecutors contend that other tape recordings and evidence indicated that in its heyday the Gangster Disciples pulled in as much as $100 million in drug proceeds a year.

Tuesday's verdict means all but one of the original 39 defendants have been convicted. Hoover is serving a life sentence.

Authorities have said the convictions have fractured the leadership ranks of the gang.

U.S. marshals arrested Jackson in January as he was leaving his home in Sheboygan, Wis.

According to Styler, Jackson had identification from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin with his photo, but under names of aliases.

Jackson told authorities he had lived for six months in Sheboygan, but over the 4 1/2 years had lived in seven states in the Midwest, Southwest and West.