Two North Carolina men plead guilty to firearm, carjacking charges; third man found guilty of firearm charge

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, December 27, 2022

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Three defendants from Wilson, Johnston and Pitt counties were recently convicted of firearms and carjacking charges, according to a December 6, 2022 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Eastern District of North Carolina.

Kenneth “Smoke” Piper and Eric Cruz Pineda pleaded guilty to carjacking and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence and a federal jury convicted Allen “Slim” Martin Smith of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. “All three are validated Gangsters Disciples members,” stated the release.

“Two of these defendants, Piper and Pineda, brazenly stole a car and kidnapped victims up with a sawed-off shotgun,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Michael Easley. “Later, Piper and Smith led police on a high-speed chase across three counties. Thanks to local law enforcement’s coordinated efforts, all three will face serious federal sentences. The public is safer with these violent gang members behind bars.”

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According to court records, on December 11, 2020, Piper and Pineda carjacked and kidnapped two male subjects in Wilson 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,” stated the release. “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 officers from the Wilson Police Department 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, stated the release.

According to court records and evidence presented at the trial, on the morning of February 21, 2022, deputies with the Wilson County and Johnston County sheriff’s offices were conducting active surveillance on Piper and Smith, two wanted fugitives, in Micro. 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, stated the release.

“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,” stated the release. “Piper and Smith then fled the vehicle and dropped a Hi Point .9mm pistol. The firearm was recovered by the Lenoir County K9 officers.”

According to the release, 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,” the release continued. “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.”

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. All three are scheduled to be sentenced in March 2023.

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.