Ex-Metra board member has ties to former gang leader’s family
BY ROBERT HERGUTH AND ALDEN LOURY September 16, 2013 12:07AM
Updated: October 17, 2013 6:20AM
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 longtime boyfriend and her 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.
Jenkins found sanctuary in a much more hospitable place.
She works at a construction company run by Larry Huggins, a government contractor, fund-raiser 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 several years, doing clerical work, 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 that 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 statement. “Mr. Huggins believes job opportunities are the best way to strengthen communities and provide young people with alternatives to crime.”
A BGA review found some of those economic opportunities have benefitted Hoover’s family — the latest twist 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.
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, records show.
County records indicate Huggins transferred ownership to a trust in September 1998.
In paperwork filed with the secretary of state and dated 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 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 said he declined to talk to the BGA but confirmed her interest in Busy Hands. She said she did not recall whether she rented the 115th Street property directly from Huggins.
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.”
Huggins was appointed to Metra’s board in 1997 by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and was re-appointed in 2012 by 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 (14th), and former 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 subcontractor, helping with the construction or renovation of bridges, roads, airport facilities and municipal buildings.