Sex Money Murder gang grew from Bronx to running drugs nationally

In the Soundview projects of the South Bronx, only the strong survived.

With a father in prison and a mother on drugs, Pipe knew he could not be weak — so he quit his job bagging groceries and started selling crack. His mother never asked where the cash came from. It bought clothes and groceries. He was, she acknowledged, the man of the house now.

Pipe was 11 years old. And just getting started.

Author Jonathan Green’s “Sex Money Murder” recounts how, within a few years, the kid helped launch a gang that went from ruling a few streets in the Bronx to running drugs up and down the East Coast and partying with Puff Daddy.

Until it all came crashing down.

The gang’s beginnings were modest. One day, 14-year-old Pistol Pete, another small-time hustler, asked Pipe to come by after school. Over strawberry Pop-Tarts, Pete asked a favor. New dealers were trying to muscle in on a friend’s territory. Could Pipe scare them off?

The 11-year-old nodded and left with a borrowed .22 pistol. He started shooting as soon as he saw the dealers. They ran, dripping blood. He turned around and walked home. He felt good.

It was easy to keep that feeling going and the money flowing. The ’90s had just begun. Crack was replacing heroin. Pistol Pete decided a new drug deserved new dealers.

He founded the Sex Money Murder gang on ideas gleaned from old mob movies. Loyalty was everything. Snitching was a death sentence. He recruited from the neighborhood — Pipe, of course. Suge, a big guy with a dogged sense of loyalty. And Twin, who had the world’s perfect alibi — a carbon-copy brother.

They were kids and they were fearless, settling scores in public. One man was killed in a busy bodega. Another was shot in Sweetwater’s, a crowded Manhattan nightclub.

It was a new generation.

“Y’all ain’t got no morals,” griped ET Larry, a disgusted older dealer, to the youngsters. “You come through the block in daylight shooting with a hundred witnesses! You don't care.”

He didn’t realize that being seen was the point. The SMM crew wanted people to know who they were. It made them feared — and famous.

The gang broadened its reach into other housing projects, other boroughs, other states. Small-time gangsters once happy to score a few hundred dollars now brought home thousands. Kids too young for a learner’s permit bought cars three at a time, paying cash, and stocked up on bling from G&G’s Jewelry on Southern Boulevard.

Pete bought a gold chain with a diamond-encrusted globe and the words “The World Is Yours.” It’s a reference to the movie “Scarface” with Al Pacino, and he presented it to Pipe the way a CEO would hand out a bonus.

As the years passed, the gang grew in power. Celebrities desperate for street cred befriended them. Puff Daddy put SMM members on the guest list to get into the Tunnel.

One night inside the Manhattan disco, when Pipe felt disrespected by Nas, he broke a bottle of Cristal over the rapper’s head.

When bouncers hurried over, Nas refused to point out Pipe. The rapper knew the code, and the cost for breaking it.

If celebrities liked the gangsters’ sense of danger, Pistol Pete craved legitimacy. Like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” he looked forward to a time when all of his money would be in legal enterprises.

He even discussed starting a rap label with model Tyson Beckford.

When Pete made the Daily News in 1995, though, it wasn’t in the entertainment section. “Most Wanted in the Bronx,” the headline read.

The story ran his picture, and said police sought Pete in connection with a Harlem murder.

Lying low was the move for old-school gangsters after publicity like that. Pistol Pete celebrated instead, taking the gang to a Red Lobster in Yonkers and toasting his new fame.

They later had the story reprinted on T-shirts distributed as souvenirs.

There were other indications their drug world was spinning out of control.

Revolvers gave way to assault weapons; bodies were dumped in plain sight. Nothing was off limits.

When R&B singer Bobby Brown owed $25,000 to a New Jersey drug dealer, a hoodlum known as Preacher bought the debt, kidnapped the star and tortured him in a Bronx apartment — until Whitney Houston ponied up a $400,000 ransom.

White gangsters started putting on police uniforms and “arresting” drug dealers, then driving them to Jersey and holding them for $1 million apiece. When one victim hesitated calling his brother for the ransom money, the gang took a staple gun to his genitals.

When one family balked at the price on their loved one’s head, the gang killed him.

Paranoia spread, infesting the SMM gang. Pistol Pete began suspecting friends of plotting against him. When a drug charge landed him in a North Carolina jail in 1997, he sent a message back to Suge alleging that Twin was a rat who needed to be killed.

Suge did as he was told, but didn’t believe that Twin had flipped. He wondered if Pete had only ordered it to eliminate a possible rival, if anybody was really safe anymore. He wondered what came next.

What loomed was a series of indictments. For years, the FBI had concentrated its racketeering efforts on the Mafia. The institutional and accepted racism was that black gangsters only killed other black gangsters.

The attitude allowed gangs like SMM to build huge criminal enterprises and destroy entire neighborhoods.

A few stubborn police detectives, though — like John O’Malley, who grew up on Soundview Aven. — pushed forward, backed by a pair of dedicated prosecutors.

They started making arrests and squeezing the SMM gangsters to make deals. Their approach worked: Suge took a deal. So did Pipe. So did a lot of other SMM members.

Not Pistol Pete, though. With the help of Suge’s testimony, he was brought up on 28 criminal charges, including racketeering, murder, kidnapping, tampering with a witness “and the use of a machine gun in furtherance of some of those crimes.”

A gangster to the end, the 26-year-old shrugged and pleaded guilty.

On Nov. 8, 2000, the judge passed sentence. Pistol Pete — aka Peter Rollack — was barred from further communication with known gang associates. He would pay the families of his victims $25,400 in restitution. And he was sentenced to life in prison, plus 105 years.

“More time than John Gotti,” his pals bragged.

Suge and Pipe are free again, although maybe not for long. Green notes they’ve been in and out of trouble. Pistol Pete remains in a supermax prison in Colorado.

His gang is in tatters, clinging to power in a few cities, including Newark and upstate Kingston.

In 2001, a federal grant paid to paint over a wall in Soundview, long covered in eulogies to slain thugs. Local schoolkids collaborated on a picture of a colorful jungle scene. While they worked, mysterious men walked slowly past, muttering threats.

The mural was later defaced with pink paint. It was repaired. It was defaced again. It was repaired again. It was defaced again.

There were still some legends, it seemed, that people refused to let die.