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Notorious Los Angeles gang member added to FBI Most Wanted list

October 20, 2009 | 11:28 am

Most wanted

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

Law enforcement officials say Jose Luis Saenz, a Cuatro Flats gang member, a decade ago shot to death two rival East LA Trece gang members in a Boyle Heights housing project. Then he allegedly kidnapped, raped and killed his girlfriend, the mother of his infant daughter, because he feared she would talk to authorities.

For more than a decade, LAPD detectives searched for the elusive Saenz, who also goes by the name Joe.

Then last year a video emerged of a smiling man calmly walking up to the front door of a Whittier-area home, rubbing his hands together like he was there for a friendly visit.

Moments later the gunman executed a 38-year-old victim who apparently owed money to a drug cartel. When sheriff’s homicide detectives showed the video to LAPD investigators, they recognized the gunman as Saenz.

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

Federal agents and detectives say Saenz, who also has called himself "Zapp," "Smiley" and "Toro" during a decade on the run, has transcended from gang member to enforcer for a drug cartel and travels with apparent ease over the border.

Police say he has previously vowed to kill any police officer coming after him.

Authorities allege Saenz executed Josue Hernandez and Leonardo Ponce in 1998 . Saenz then fled from the scene and hid at the apartment of his girlfriend, Sigreta Hernandez.

Police say he then kidnapped Hernandez and drove her to a house in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. Authorities claim he raped her and shot her in the head. His grandmother discovered the woman’s body. Prosecutors charged Saenz with three counts of murder, one count of kidnapping and one count of rape, and secured a warrant for his arrest.

Despite a hefty reward from the L.A. City Council, Saenz was not seen again until last year.

In August 2008, two members of the Lott Stoner gang were stopped by a Missouri state trooper while driving a rental vehicle. A search turned up $620,000 in cash in a hidden compartment, wrapped and marked with the name "Toro" -- Saenz’s street name, according to the FBI.

Two months later, one of those gang members was killed at his Whittier-area home. Saenz is seen on a home security tape arriving at Torres’ house, chasing the victim out of his front door and then shooting Torres in the head.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: FBI

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