On December 11, 2020, Kenneth "Smoke" Piper and Eric Cruz Pineda carjacked and kidnapped two male subjects in Wilson, North Carolina, over a drug debt. Piper and Pineda each brandished shotguns during the carjacking and assaulted both victims. Additionally, both Piper and Pineda forced the victims to strip down to ensure that neither had stolen drugs from the pair. Finally, Piper and Pineda forced both victims back into one of the victim’s cars and began driving them to an unknown location when a Wilson Police officer observed the group driving in downtown Wilson. Observing the two victims in the vehicle without any clothes, the police officer initiated a traffic stop on the vehicle. Pineda was driving the vehicle and Piper was seated in the backseat with a sawed-off shotgun pointed at one of the victims. Additional Wilson Police officers arrived on scene and arrested both Pineda and Piper. At the time, Pineda was on state parole. A search of the vehicle revealed the victims’ wallets, clothing, and belongings in the trunk of the vehicle with Pineda’s shotgun.
On the morning of February 21, 2022, deputies with the Wilson and Johnston County Sheriff’s Offices were conducting active surveillance on Piper and Allen "Slim" Smith, two wanted fugitives, in Micro, North Carolina. Piper was out on bond for the carjacking charges when an arrest warrant was issued for drug charges stemming from a separate incident on February 14, 2021. Smith was on parole but had removed his ankle monitor. Officers observed the pair enter a vehicle and drive away from a trailer park. As officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop, the pair sped off and took law enforcement on a high-speed chase across three counties before crashing in La Grange, North Carolina. Piper and Smith then fled the vehicle and dropped a Hi Point .9mm pistol. The firearm was recovered by the Lenoir County K9 officers.
Following the manhunt for Smith and Piper, Kinston Police found Smith and arrested him. After Smith was arrested, he waived his Miranda Rights and admitted to law enforcement that he had fled from police with Piper and that there was a gun in the car. A short time later, the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office received anonymously a Snapchat video that Smith had recorded of himself and Piper inside the car during the high-speed chase. In the video, Smith and Piper are seen pointing the gun at the camera, with Smith saying, “No, no, no - you can’t catch me - I’m the Gingerbread man.” Piper was arrested the next day.
All three are validated Gangsters Disciples members.
Smith faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison when sentenced. Piper and Pineda face minimum sentences of 7 years and maximum sentences of life imprisonment.
Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III accepted the verdict and pleas. The Wilson and Kinston Police Departments, The Wilson, Johnston and Lenoir County Sheriff’s Offices, and The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives investigated the cases and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aakash Singh and Leonard Champaign prosecuted the cases.
Kidnapping; and Aiding and Abetting
Carjacking; and Aiding and Abetting
Brandishing Firearms During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence; and Aiding and Abetting
Possession of Firearms by a Convicted Felon; and Aiding and Abetting
Possession of Ammunition by a Convicted Felon
Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; and Aiding and Abetting
Outcome: 11/29/2022 Terminate Jury Selection and Jury Trial as to Kenneth Earl Piper.