Twin, Suge, Pipe, and Pistol Pete. The names still haunt the Soundview projects in the Bronx, New York. Their drugs kept the hood from starving, but their violence caused nothing but pain and horror. Their gang Sex Money Murder ruled supreme and has become part of gangland history. “If they hadn’t been taken down they’d probably have become as powerful as a drug cartel.”
“I didn’t just want to write a true crime book,” Green tells Gangsters Inc. “I felt this story was a lot more important than that. It goes beyond that. The social civic history of the 1980s and 1990s, the crack epidemic and how that birthed these gangs, and the formation of the New York Bloods. But I also really wanted to show the background that these guys came from and why they ended up in the gang. You sort of hear about it in rap songs and I wanted to tell all that in a narrative. Which I think had never been done.”
Green (right) is originally from England and first came to the United States in the 1980s when he visited family in New York. He began writing for magazines with most of his work focused on crime. He spent time with a SWAT team and Bounty hunter in Los Angeles. After he had enough of flying back and forth between London and New York, he moved to the Big Apple permanently in the early 2000s.
He wasn’t done traveling, though. He covered crime stories around the globe. He reported on the favelas in Brazil, the gangs in Kingston, Jamaica, the intersection between crime and terrorism in Sudan, and the coca fields in Colombia.
Sex Money Murder
Green’s work on transnational organized crime eventually brought him in contact with former NYPD detective John O’Malley, who had been part of an expansive investigation into Sex Money Murder, a gang that hailed from the Soundview projects and held sway across the Bronx and into other states beyond New York.
The former detective introduced Green to one of Sex Money Murder’s leaders, Emilio Romero. Better known on the streets by his nickname “Pipe”, Romero had flipped and become a cooperating witness against his fellow gang members. He was hesitant, but also willing to share his story with Green.
“In the beginning, I couldn’t ask him about his mom or growing up,” Green says. “Pipe told me: ‘Man, this is difficult! I didn’t think it would be that hard.’ We built up a relationship and ended up talking all the time, every day.”
Pipe made his motivations crystal clear to Green. “I really want people to understand that, yes, I was in a gang and I sold crack and we used violence,” the gangster began. “But, I loved my mom, my family, and I want people to understand what made us do the things we did.”
In his book, Green goes to great lengths in telling the story of not just Sex Money Murder and its members, but of the community where they grew up, the cops who chased them, and the relatives who were worried sick about their sons, brothers, and fathers or were stricken with sorrow after losing a loved one to the deadly streets.
“Violence at the drop of a hat”
“During the 1990s the violence was so out of control,” Green explains. “And police had difficulty getting a handle on this. They couldn’t find any witnesses. Sex Money Murder just got stronger and stronger. These days, guys like that would be in handcuffs within a year or two. But back then they could grow unchecked and Sex Money Murder went from a street gang to a syndicate. They were getting increasingly sophisticated. Laundering drug money and investing it in legitimate businesses, paying out members with clean paychecks, and leasing all the cars so they couldn’t be traced back. If they hadn’t been taken down they’d probably have become as powerful as a drug cartel.”
What fueled Sex Money Murder’s rise was not just the gang’s brain thrust, but also its willingness to engage in violence. Green: “These guys were very violent and very deadly. More dangerous than your average Mafia crew because they were so willing to use violence at the drop of a hat.”
“New York streets where killers'll walk like Pistol Pete” - Nas
Much of that violence was ordered by the group’s leader Peter Rollock, who was nicknamed Pistol Pete. “’Pistol’ was so flamboyant,” Green explains. “He got the attention of rap stars like Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz who rhymed about his life and crimes. He went clubbing with supermodel Tyra Banks and music mogul Sean Combs (better known as Puffy or P. Diddy). He had this swagger and flamboyance a lot of the other guys didn’t have. But he was also prepared to commit the violence, the murders, himself. Which, normally they delegate that stuff to others, but Pete was quite happy to carry out the murders himself and was proud of them. He advertised the fact he did murders. Boasted about it.”
In doing so, he created a street legend while still walking those streets. He was always very aware of gangster history and an avid reader of books about the Italian-American Mafia. “Pete absolutely idolized the Mafia,” Green says. “As a kid he had posters of these guys on his wall like others had posters of music stars. He would have [mob boss] Albert Anastasia on his wall and people like that.”
It wasn’t just fanboy stuff either. Pete actually studied these Mafia bosses and their activities and actions. Green: “Pipe told me that Pete read a lot about the early Mafia guys and anytime they’d get whacked he’d try to learn a lesson, so he wouldn’t make the same mistake.”
Pistol Pete was not planning on ending up like Anastasia, shot dead in the chair of a barbershop. “After reading about that, whenever he went to have a haircut he’d have a posse with him,” Green explains. “When he went to the barber he made sure the door was locked, that security was posted there. He learned from everything he read. Later on in his career, he was never alone. He always had armed guys with him.”
This wasn’t paranoia, mind you. People were frequently getting shot at or killed in those days. But despite the murders, for a long time authorities didn’t do much about it. Green: “Everyone is focused on the Mafia groups because that’s where the glory is. And there was this attitude that because it happened in Soundview, a poor neighborhood, let them kill each other. A classic racist slant which pervaded everything.”
Still, the killings did catch the police’s attention. Especially after Sex Money Murder organized a massacre in broad daylight on Thanksgiving Day in 1997 when it executed two of its own members in front of women and children enjoying the annual game of football. “Even the community rose up after those murders,” Green explains. “Everyone had had enough. The killings and shootings had been going on for so long but this one, at a football game with families and stuff, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Joining the United Blood Nation
To top it all off, Sex Money Murder had joined the nationwide United Blood Nation gang, the first New York crew to do so. The decision to join the Bloods was made by Pistol Pete, who saw it as an expansion of the group’s influence and power and thought it would give them a more fearsome reputation.
“Pipe and the others in Sex Money Murder thought that was a huge mistake,” Green explains. “Pipe felt that they didn’t need that. Their reputation was hard. Certainly, Pete had much more of a vicious rep than United Blood Nation founder Omar “OG Mack” Portee. They were tight and loyal and didn’t need to be a part of this big, national organization. People close to Pete also thought it was a mistake because this move puts you on the radar of federal law enforcement. Whereas when you’re a tight, small clique you can do you own thing and not be caught up as much in a federal case. A lot of people at the time were shocked.”
Local and federal agencies cooperate
Where federal authorities had no interest in Sex Money Murder before, now they finally saw why the group had to be stopped. But wanting something done and actually being able to do it are two different things, Liz Glazer, the lead prosecutor in the investigation, quickly found out. Working with federal agents she realized they would never be able to break this Bronx-based organization. So, she pioneered a hugely effective cooperation between federal and local agencies.
Green: “Liz Glazer realized the local cops knew who all the players were, who the shooters were and who the top guys were. The FBI was different. When they’d come in they didn’t know who everybody was, who the people in the neighborhood were. The violence and killings are carried out by a very small group of people and once you identify them you have an enormous advantage. She realized that by partnering up local detectives with the feds they’d have the power of the federal system with the mandatory minimum sentences of RICO with the expertise of the street cops on the ground. It was a winning strategy in eradicating these gangs.”
With help from detectives like O’Malley and Pete Forcelli, prosecutors were able to bring the gang leaders and members in on RICO charges. Facing serious time in a federal prison, many of them began to weigh their options. Most of them decided to cooperate and testify against their former brothers.
“Sex Money Murder bangin’ for their rats”
Among those to turn their back on Sex Money Murder were “Pipe” and “Suge”, two of the group’s high-ranking and founding members. Both men also sat down with Green for his book. Using their inside knowledge of Sex Money Murder, he was able to paint a vivid picture of the gang’s rise to power and its rapid downfall.
Getting them to trust him, however, was not easy. Green: “Remember, these guys are not used to trusting anyone. Much of their life they’ve been lied to. Gang life is based on deception and lies. Pipe told me once the only guys who know everything are at the top. Guys on the bottom are kept in the quiet about what’s happening. It’s a lifestyle where lies become commonplace so trusting is difficult. When we started it took a lot to establish that trust particularly when talking about cooperating and murders.”
Where cooperators are usually branded rats and snitches “get stitches”, a weird thing happened within the Sex Money Murder crew as a visible split occurred between those who remained loyal and those who cooperated: Both sides continued to show each other love and respect, to some degree.
When members of the Latin Kings approached Pistol Pete in prison with an offer to murder Sex Money Murder turncoats, he flat out refused, saying: “We stand on our own, man. We grew up from the sandbox together. Ain’t nobody touch no Sex Money Murder rats.”
“These bonds are tight,” Green explains. “They killed for each other. It’s like a type of army unit. It’s not, of course. The military has a different motivation, but at the same time they also had this very deep sense of camaraderie. After Pete’s stance became clear, they got a reputation in prison for loyalty. Guys locked up would chant: ‘Sex Money bangin’ for their rats!’”
The infection that is violence
Pistol Pete went down with his ship, sentenced to life plus 105 years in prison. He was held in solitary confinement out of fear he would use his influence within the United Blood Nation to order violence or murders. At the time of his sentencing he was just 26 years old.
Pipe and Suge were released from prison after cooperating with authorities. Both men struggled with their new lives away from Soundview, but Pipe, especially, has been able to turn his life around and hold down a legitimate job and raise a family.
The justice system tends to punish African-American criminals more severely than whites. Young black males also tend to be arrested for petty things, creating a criminal record early on which makes getting a regular job later on in life that much harder and the gang life that much more attractive, a necessity even. Thus, the vicious cycle of growing up without a father, poverty, crime, and prison perpetuates on and on.
Pipe’s reason for telling his story was showing youngsters the reality of it. “These young guys don’t realize that the very people they think are their brothers are the same guys that will murder them,” he told Green. “Every time the set turns on itself and they eat their own. It happened with Sex Money Murder too. They brought on their own destruction because they turned on each other.”
Getting this perspective out was important for Green too. “I wanted to give people caught up in this life some idea of other people who went through it. If Pipe can explain ‘Here’s what happened to me. I started out poor, sold crack for money, then the violence started and once it starts you cannot turn it off. It will go on and on. It will claim your life or someone else’s.’ I wanted to tell that in a personal way, like they knew Pipe and Suge and were invested in their life story and understand it. Because there’s a myth and aura about the lifestyle, which is tragic.”
He continues: “It’s so tragic for the mothers of these guys. It causes a lot of devastation. It’s a selfish motivation: Getting rich no matter what. That kind of hunger eats you out and they always turn and kill each other. It’s like an infection. The violence spreads. And you have to use it or you get murdered yourself. It’s like a security, it keeps you safe. But eventually you become infected yourself.”
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