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FBI adds L.A. gang member to 10 Most Wanted list

Jose Luis Saenz is suspected of killing four people, including his girlfriend, since 1998. He allegedly is an enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel.

October 21, 2009|Richard Winton

A Los Angeles gang member and Mexican drug cartel enforcer who, authorities say, killed four people, including the mother of his child, is now on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted fugitive list.

Jose Luis Saenz, a Cuatro Flats gang member, shot and killed two rivals from the East LA Trece gang in a Boyle Heights housing project a decade ago, authorities say. He then allegedly kidnapped, raped and killed his girlfriend -- who was also the mother of his infant daughter -- because he feared that she would talk to authorities.

Detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department have searched for Saenz since then. Last year, a video emerged of a smiling man calmly walking up to a Whittier-area front door and rubbing his hands together. Moments later the gunman executed a 38-year-old victim who apparently owed money to a drug cartel. When Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide detectives showed the video to LAPD investigators, they said it was Saenz.

Saenz "is one of the worst offenders I have ever seen," said Special Agent Scott Garriola, a 22-year FBI veteran. "He's got a long career of killing, and that's just what we know about."

Federal agents and detectives say Saenz -- who goes by "Zapp," "Smiley" and "Toro" -- has transformed from a gang member to a drug cartel enforcer over the last decade. Authorities say he has vowed to kill any police officer who pursued him.

Standing nearly 6 feet tall and bearing several tattoos, including the word Flats on his right arm, Saenz allegedly committed the first killings on July 25, 1998, when he and another gang member went to the Aliso Village housing project.

According to detectives, they pretended to be there for a drug buy but were really planning an ambush. The reason, authorities say, was because East LA Trece gang members had beaten the second gunman a week earlier. Authorities allege Saenz executed Josue Hernandez and Leonardo Ponce.

Saenz then fled from the scene and hid in the apartment of his girlfriend, Sigreta Hernandez, authorities said. On Aug. 5, however, Saenz allegedly kidnapped her and drove her to a house in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles. Saenz then allegedly raped her and shot her in the head. His grandmother discovered the woman's body.

Prosecutors have charged Saenz with three counts of murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of rape, and have secured a warrant for his arrest. Despite a hefty reward offered by the Los Angeles City Council, Saenz was not seen again until last year.

In August 2008, two members of the Lott Stoner gang were stopped in Missouri by a state trooper while driving a rental vehicle. Inside a secret panel, $620,000 was found. The money, which was confiscated, was wrapped and marked with the name "Toro," according to the FBI. Two months later, one of the gang members was killed at his Whittier-area home. Investigators suspect Saenz did not believe police took the money.

Unbeknownst to Saenz, the home surveillance system of victim Oscar Torres, 38, was recording at the time of the killing. Saenz is seen arriving at Torres' house, chasing the victim and then shooting him in the head, authorities said.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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