Alleged Black Disciples chief among 32 nabbed in 6-year investigation

Chicago Sun-Times
May 14, 2004 Friday
Frank Main

As the "king" of Chicago's notorious Black Disciples street gang, Marvel J. Thompson ran a recording studio, owned a lounge and even operated a pirate FM station that warned his underlings when the cops were coming, prosecutors say.

Thompson, 35, is accused of sitting at the helm of a massive criminal corporation that raked in as much as $300,000 a day in drug profits and kept its members in line with baseball bats and guns.

But a 185-page indictment unsealed Thursday is likely to dethrone Thompson and put dozens of his top leaders behind bars for a long time, said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

"These defendants are alleged to be not just drug dealers, but individuals who had their own laws, territory, justice system and economy," Fitzgerald said. "They operated as if they were an independent nation, subject only to the laws of the streets."

Chicago Police launched the investigation, code-named "Marvel Less," six years ago after a federal indictment decimated the hierarchy of another murderous organization, the Gangster Disciples. Police will monitor BD turf to make sure violence does not fill the vacuum created by arrests of the gang's leaders, said Police Supt. Phil Cline.

Chicago Police and federal agents executed a dozen search warrants Wednesday, seizing more than $300,000 in cash from one of Thompson's properties along with 11 guns, bulletproof vests, jewelry and boxes of gang documents, authorities said.

With the help of the Federal Communications Commission, they also shut down 104.7 FM, a station running out of a building Thompson owns at 6723-29 S. Parnell, officials said.

The station was automated most of the day, but it broadcast live at night, playing uncensored rap and even sending a car around Englewood to take requests and have listeners give "shout-outs" to friends over the radio. Its signal went from Cermak to 110th and from the lakefront to Western, said Larry Langford, a city spokesman. The city's Office of Emergency Communications helped authorities locate the station, which was broadcasting without a license, and record its illegal transmissions, he said.

"They played rap music, unedited, uncut," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Alesia. There were also "almost public service announcements to the other gang members alerting them to surveillance in certain areas of the South Side."

A studio for M.O.B. Records operated in the same building on Parnell, officials said. Thompson, president of M.O.B., produced "Cha-Cha Slide," a hit album.

The indictment charged 47 people with participating in a 15-year drug distribution conspiracy that could lead to sentences of 10 years to life. Thirty-two of the defendants, including Thompson, were in custody Thursday.

They allegedly controlled the sale of heroin, cocaine and marijuana throughout the South and West sides. Randolph Towers, a 144-unit Chicago Housing Authority high-rise at 6217 S. Calumet, was the hub of their operation, officials said.

The gang used night-vision devices to look for police and posted radio-equipped members on the roof with assault rifles. Trash containers were positioned to keep squad cars out, and anyone entering the building was frisked, officials said.

Thompson, who attended a VIP party after the NBA All-Star game last year and rubbed shoulders with star players, bought buildings to launder his drug money, authorities said. He owned the Nice & Easy Lounge at 73rd and Halsted; a building at 69th and Halsted that housed a currency exchange, liquor store and restaurant, and a house at 101st and Church.

Other BDs spent lavishly, too. Twins Varney Voker and Varmah Voker owned an Atlanta car wash and bought luxury cars such as Bentleys and Mercedes, the indictment said. Varney Voker allegedly bragged he earned $3 million in six months.

The gang is ruthless, Fitzgerald said. In August 2001, for instance, a man and his 6-year-old son were shot because he refused to employ BD members at his drug spot. Earlier that year, an undercover Chicago cop was wounded when BDs patted him down and found he was wearing a bulletproof vest. They opened fire, striking his vest, which saved him.

In 1993, Thompson was convicted of a murder at a South Side car wash where the husband of a Cook County Criminal Courts judge, Loretta Hall Morgan, was also wounded. A judge acquitted Thompson before he was sentenced because a witness recanted, officials say. State drug charges are now pending against him.

The Black Disciples have a long history in Chicago. In 1974, they split from the Gangster Disciples to form their own gang.

Larry Hoover, head of the Gangster Disciples, has been in prison since the 1970s. Thompson has met him six times behind bars to talk about gang business, authorities say.

Longtime Black Disciples leader Jerome "Shorty" Freeman also is behind bars on a 1989 drug conviction.

The indictment refers to Freeman as "co-conspirator A," sources say. It says "co-conspirator A" stepped down as the leader of the BDs in April 2000 in an effort to get out of prison early.

Mike Smith, a supervisor in the Cook County state's attorney's office, said Freeman and Thompson were at odds. Freeman is due to get out of prison next March. "It would have been a war, and real bloody," Smith said.