FBI Top 10 fugitive Jose Luis Saenz arrested in Mexico, brought back to LA


Saenz made his initial appearance Monday in Pomona Superior Court for the 2008 murder of Oscar Torres, but his arraignment was postponed to January 8. His bail was set at $2 million.

The known gang member had been on the run from law enforcement for 14 years. But in a joint takedown operation with Mexican authorities, the 37-year-old was arrested Thursday in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was brought back to Los Angeles the following day.

"Saenz is the 467th fugitive to have been captured on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list," said Bill Lewis, FBI L.A. assistant director. "The adage that you can run, but you cannot hide speaks truthful here."

Authorities say Saenz did everything he could to elude being captured, moving around often through South America, the U.S. and Canada. Special agents say he used as many as 25 aliases, including "Zapp," "Peanut Joe Smiley" and "Honeycutt." He gained weight, shaved his head and had tattoos removed. He even tried altering his fingerprints.

In the end, it took a $100,000 reward and several key tips to arrest him.

"We were dogged in our determination to find him, but when you have that many aliases and you have that much money and connections, then you move around that much, it makes it a little more difficult," said Garriola. "He stated that he was surprised, I think his words were he 'got sloppy.'"

Saenz is suspected of murdering two rival gang members -- Josue Hernandez and Leonardo Ponce -- in Boyle Heights on July 25, 1998, as payback for an attack on an associate. Less than two weeks later, he allegedly kidnapped, raped and murdered girlfriend Sigrieta Hernandez, the mother of his child, after she threatened to turn him in for the two killings, according to investigators.

The FBI said Saenz then fled to Mexico and became a drug cartel enforcer. In October 2008, surveillance video showed Saenz back in Southern California, showing up in Whittier at his friend Oscar Torres' house, where he allegedly shot and killed Torres over a $600,000 drug debt.

"The 2008 murder was based on the seizure by law enforcement of over half a million dollars of money that was earmarked for him," said FBI case agent Scott Garriola.

Saenz was placed seventh on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list in October 2009.

The Los Angeles native is due in court Tuesday on charges of murder, rape and kidnapping in the 1998 cases.

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