Drug kingpin, or benefactor to area kids?

Chicago Sun-Times,  Oct 6, 2000  by FRANK MAIN

To some he was a notorious drug kingpin, to others a Robin Hood in a Rolls-Royce.

Elbert "Pierre" Mahone, 38, was a leader of the Conservative Vice Lords and was at the center of a gang turf war over drug sales in the Lawndale neighborhood when he was kidnapped and killed last week, police said. He was a convicted robber, rapist and drug dealer, records show.

But he also worked for Amer-I-Can Illinois, a Cook County-funded program that counsels youths in the juvenile temporary detention center.

And Mahone was known for donating school supplies and even buying Christmas presents for underprivileged children in the hardscrabble neighborhood, according to friends and foes alike.

Drew Goldsmith, 30, a lifelong resident of Lawndale, recalled seeing Mahone driving around in a Rolls-Royce but also heard residents talk of his generosity.

Goldsmith, attending a news conference by local politicians and ministers Thursday to call for an end to gang violence in the area, said Mahone's death offers a chance for the community to reduce the influence of gangs.

"The head kahuna is gone," he said. "This is an opportunity to regain control over the area."

But ask Kublai Khan Muhammad Toure, executive director of Amer-I- Can Illinois, and he'll tell you Mahone was a "rare jewel" committed to helping troubled kids turn their lives around.

Mahone earned between $12,000 and $15,000 a year working for the program the last two years, Toure said.

He and other "facilitators"-chosen for their real-life experience as former criminals-spoke with youths at the juvenile detention center four days a week.

"His objective was to help them not make the same mistakes he made in life," Toure said. "He was trying to change his life for the better."

Jack Beary, spokesman for Cook County Board President John Stroger, stressed that Mahone and the other facilitators were supervised when they dealt with youths.

The board of directors for Amer-I-Can includes such leaders as former Mayor Eugene Sawyer, state Sen. Donne Trotter and Cook County Commissioner Jerry Butler.

Mahone seemed like a "fine gentleman" and commanded respect, but Trotter said he would not have allowed him to work with youths if he knew Mahone was still actively involved in gang activities.

Ald. Michael Chandler (24th), one of the leaders at Thursday's rally against gang violence, recalled talking to Mahone about a death threat against the Rev. Michael T. Ivers, a Roman Catholic priest at St. Agatha's Church in the area.

"Pierre told me and Father Mike that he called a meeting of the gang members and he squashed that," Chandler said. "He told these guys not to say stuff like that. . . . I was happy Father Mike was going to be safe."

Chandler and several other aldermen joined ministers Thursday in making a public appeal after Mahone's death.

"I'm calling on the Conservative Vice Lords and the New Breeds to stop the killing," said the Rev. Winfred Neely, pastor of Lawndale Community Church.

Mahone was killed last Friday in a spate of gang shootings.

The violence prompted school officials to bolster security and increase patrols in the area.

Students at William Penn School near 16th and Avers were locked in the building for two hours for their own protection during the shootings.

James Selbie, 6, a first-grader at Penn, was in a classroom facing 16th Street when the shooting erupted. James said he heard a bang and that his teacher told the class to lie on the floor.

"I think they need more security to protect these kids," said his mother, Jacqueline White, picking up James at school Thursday.

Mahone and his younger brother, Kenny, had both attended Penn. They had grown up across the street from a house the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. occupied near 16th and Hamlin in the 1960s.

"We played with his kids," Kenny Mahone said.

"He was a business person," Kenny Mahone said of his brother. "Who is he a criminal to? He is a criminal to anyone threatened by his leadership. . . . He saved a lot of kids."

But in the end, Elbert Mahone was just a drug-dealing gang leader, Goldsmith said.

"He's behind children pushing drugs and all the killing," he said.