By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Twelve years ago, Jose Saenz was a Los Angeles Unified School District dropout and run-of-the-mill tagger known on the east side of Los Angeles as Smiley, a nod to the way he flashed his trademark brilliant grin. At age 22, he sidled up to two young east-side men peddling dope on North Clarence Street in Boyle Heights, pretending to be friend not foe. When Smiley got real close, he yanked out a hidden gun and killed Josue Hernandez and Leonardo Ponce, two members of the East L.A. 13 gang.
Worried about a Prizzi's Honor-style scenario, police believe, Smiley feared that those close to him knew too much about the double murder — honor killings, in his mind, required after his two victims beat up his teenage buddy, Juan Pena. So 11 days after the Clarence Street murders, on a hot August afternoon in 1998, police say, Smiley raped and executed the woman who had intimate knowledge of him: his pretty, dark-haired, estranged girlfriend, 21-year-old Sigreda Fernandez, mother of his 2-year-old baby girl.
He left Fernandez's ravaged body sprawled in his grandmother's bedroom in East Los Angeles, with an eerie, apologetic note scrawled on the wall.
For years, nobody has had a death wish strong enough to rat out Smiley for the killings, save for young Juan Pena. Dying several years ago of childhood leukemia, he fingered his blood brother Saenz for the executions on North Clarence Street.
But Smiley, with his intense black eyes and his quick, deviant mind, vanished from the local cops' radar for 10 years — to Mexico for some of that time, the FBI says, where he morphed from East L.A. tagger to a connected, Mexican-cartel drug "soldier" — simply put, a high-level executioner and trafficker, operating on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.
Many facts are unknown, and his long periods of time in Mexico remain a mystery. But U.S. authorities believe Saenz hooked up in northern Mexico with former Cal State Los Angeles business student Rolando Ontiveros, a smart, nattily dressed former private school student who used his college education to ill ends south of the border.
Like Rolo, Smiley rose to operate in high-end international drug-smuggling circles, where million-dollar coke transactions went down. He sometimes used Tijuana bars as a base, crossing to the United States regularly with a bogus Mexican passport to do business with dealers in L.A. and Orange counties, and in other states.
According to Rene Enriquez, a former Mexican Mafia leader, the key operators move easily between Southern California and Mexico; they are principally Mexican-American men drawn from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties.
"It's like coming to East Los Angeles," when they arrive in Mexico, surrounded by other Southern California Latino gang members and former convicts, many of whom met in California prisons, Enrique says. "He's walking right in the loop again, from one geographic location to another . . . It's the California gang world in Mexico."
"[Saenz] was pretty much on the run when he left here," says Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective Ron Chavarria, investigating the 1998 Clarence Street murders attributed to Smiley. "He didn't have a car or anything. Then, years later, he is an established drug dealer."
In the intervening years, "He did something to get himself to that level. People are deathly afraid of this guy. You mention this guy's name and [potential informants] are done. They don't want to talk about him."
It is now known that during that time Smiley, now 34, partied under the noses of LAPD and city and county police agencies throughout Southern California with his drug-dealer pals, frequenting nice, suburban Long Beach-area bars like Lakewood's Elephant Club, Hollywood Boulevard hot spots, and chic Southern California watering holes.
Life was fine. At one point, Smiley was ferried around by a chauffeur employed by his gangster buddy Oscar Torres, a Los Angeles Hummer limo-service owner who wore upscale clothes, lived as "Sam" in a quiet, suburban equestrian community in Whittier — and sold prodigious quantities of coke.
But Oscar Torres ended up on his friend Smiley's execution list in 2008, after a careless screw-up that for an average person would have resulted in a traffic ticket but for Torres had mortal consequences.
In summer 2008, as Torres drove through Missouri heading to L.A., fresh from an East Coast coke deal, two small-town sheriff's deputies in St. Charles County pulled him over for tailgating and speeding. He and his passenger seemed extremely nervous, so the cops searched the car. They found $610,000 in hidden packets of cash — but, incredibly, the deputies let Torres go without trying to figure out who he was or what he was up to.
The cash, however, stayed in Missouri — and some of it was Smiley's money.
Two of Torres' Southern California homes were in Pellissier Village, where he often slept in his rundown two-bedroom crash pad, tricked out with a sauna and nine surveillance cameras. Three months after he lost the $610,000 in Missouri, Torres heard pre-dawn knocking on his door and opened it to find Smiley, grinning like a madman.
Smiley, police say, executed his friend with four shots to the face. Then, he carefully removed from Torres' surveillance system the DVD disc he knew had captured it all — from several unflattering angles.
What an awesome and scary story, Christine. Thank you! Now, could you run a copy past Lemons before he writes another article that puts the Copy Editor on suicide watch? Thanks.
And it's more of these people you folks want coming here,right? These upstanding model citizen types like this Saenz person? You people at New Times are just as obteuse as president Obama. I fail to understand why you love these people so much, and seem to want the dissolution of the border so that the American taxpayer can support them medically,economically, and education wise. It has to stop somewhere.SB 1070 clearly sends the message, the time is NOW ,the place is HERE.
I agree with the one guy.......tell stories about all the good stuff hispanics have done and do. I am white, but know a lot of so-called "hispanics" I think all the labels of color and creed are really stupid and perpetuated by liberals in office using minorities for political means. Exploitation is rampant, but a white, semi-conservative I am not anti-hispanic in any way but totally against illegal immigration from any country.
When are we/those gonna learn that a piece of shit will always be just that...damn what has America come too? We all have an obligation to stop paying for the criminals/illegals in the US....hang all the MF'ing criminals/illegals...bring capital punishment back and stop wasting taxpayers money!!!!
As long as gang-bangers want to kill each other, I fully support it. Every one of them shot means one less in our society. The killing of the girlfriend was sad, but when you lay down with dogs you're gonna get fleas.
This article illustrates why Governor Brewer is taking action to prevent Arizona from becoming another California. Those yahoos on the L.A. Council who are boycotting want more Mexicans to come here to take over the entire southwest. Then what? Another cess pool like L.A. They attend college at taxpayers' expense, major in ethnic studies like Villaraigosa and then set out to destroy everything we have accomplished in this country. Further, it was not the Mexicans who settled the southwest. It was the Spaniards, as well as people from England, Germany, and France. There was no such thing as a Mexican.
this guy in an AMERICAN institution!!! we liberals love this guy!! we like to make them famous, write articles about them , raise thier prestige, this guy is perfect to run the jails too!!! and proudly he will!!here at the new times we support all liberals!!!!! it works so well, we are proud to do our part, with a name like smilly!!!!! he can be on obamas cabinet!!!! go smilly we love you!!!!!!!!!
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Deporting all the immigrants will not solve cartel violence problems. The best thing to combat these mafias is to bring these drugs under control through legalization and tax the living daylights out of this stuff and then educate everyone about the dangers of these products like the government does with tobacco and alcohol. This problem will persist as long as the money stays lucrative and it is easy to get rich quick.
yet ANOTHER criminal who ought to have been born to ravage a different country because of his rich Mexican cultural heritage.
This is not news. This is typical of Arizona and California because there is no security on the border. Travis Murphy was murdered because of NO border security. If the MURDERER would have been born in his MOTHER'S country of origin and LANGUAGE, and if his MOTHER never had the opportunity to break our laws, Officer Murphy would be alive. How many of our law enforcement public servants would be alive today if illegals were not extended that ridiculous welfare benefit of legitimizing their unending offspring by virtue of birth over the border?
Anyone want to tackle that question? It seems that our university researchers are afraid to delve into that issue.
Hey. How about we allow EVERYONE on the FACE of the EARTH to become an AMERICAN CITIZEN if only they make it through the "harsh" Arizona desert and immediately have unprotected SEX??
To you intelligent ( oh, probably genius ) professors, how long until the state is TOTALLY bankrupt?
In order to avoid bankruptcy, how about we simply make AZ a part of Mexico? Mexicans believe they belong here. We can just let them have this wasteland of filth and stickers and dirty alleys.
Provided they do not attempt agree not to penetrate Utah (HA HA HA)
Why spend your talented resources on someone who chose such violent and negative path. There are many Hispanic-Americans who have overcome extremely impoverished circumstances through dedication and perseverance, their stories need to be known!
Sloppy police work + laws preventing police (the ones who are awake) from detaining you unless you've committed a felony + drug violence. Check, check, and check. SB 1070 was inevitable. Arizona reminds me of a drunk with clinical depression. Once the drunk is sober, they're still a pain in the ass to live with. Taking the emotion out of the equation, legalize everything and put Arpaio and the cartels out of business in one move. Force MX into parity. If they treat their citizens like crap, give the U.S. something in return for providing asylum and/or citizenship.
A well researched article. I agree with the 1st comment. I too am confused regarding the author trying to highlight life as a hispanic/Mexican. This article is of horror and mayhem. I bet you if you gave each of the people in the projects the opportunity to "escape" and never see another hispanic. They would take it. I too am an immigrant. I have sacrificed everything to give my children and the next generation a better life. I believe you always have a choice. It is what you do to get what you want. Is the the choice one that would lead to a better life or violence, murder, rape, horror. If you look at what was highlighted in this article. the movement of people across borders, criminals, etc. These are people that have only greed and self in mind. Others as I did come here to create a new reality. just go and look at Mexico and their laws around immigration. Wow. It is a failure as a state/country...is there any goodness or joy eft in this world. This guy in this article and the person that romanticize him (author) and his culture is such a farce. That is the very reason a law like SB1070 is written, You manage to the lowest common denominator. Not the poor people that cross the border, desperate, trying to escape a failed state/country. God bless America. In Rome you do as the Romans do.
I agree with Willy, but with the added feature that we make it retroactive to ALL non-indigenous people living here from 1442 on.
I'm confused by the "Editor's Note" at the beginning of this article. It states that the VVM is "telling the story of Hispanics among us...and the struggles they face." This story is about a criminal, regardless of race, he is a criminal. What this story has to do with our national illegal-immigration problem is lost on me. And Arizona is not full of clowns, but rather a people who are tired of not having our Federal government enforce it's own laws. With the clown name calling comment you have yourself proven to pass judgment on a people whom you know nothing about.
Law enforcement had him and they let him go. They have nothing to comaplain about as he luxuriates in his heinous depravity. And thus his carnage continues unabated. Anyone mind if he is shot dead upon sight? Girlymen? Tissue Queens? Leotard Lawyers?
I totally agree with betterthanyou, willy whacker is everything better called him. people like willy are the reason we all get called racist. (I"m a 60 year old white guy) and I"d really like to think that willy is the minority. If it was a choice of shooting a hispanic (as he suggests)or willy ,,,,bye,bye willy
Wow, WillyWhacker (and it sounds like you like to whack yourself a lot) what a piece of filthy, racist sh*t you are. You're no better than the trash this article was written about. You should all be let loose together on some desert island where you will hopefully all off each other and leave Planet Earth for those of us who AREN'T inbred knuckle draggers. You should move to Arizona to hang out with other clowns of your kind.
This is why we should implant a surveillance chip in every mexican so we can track them on satellite. If we find a mexican without a chip, we shoot them. Racial profiling is necessary to wipe out these kinds of criminal sydicates.
sends money for support her???!!!...you're kidding Kristine...obviously you didn't ready the part what he did to the mother...first raped then shot in head...to you understand the gravity of the things this human excrement did...caring is the last thing in his dictionary, he is a ruthless thug/maniac who I hope will one day get what he deserves and I am not talking about prison…that’s way too good of an ending to this story.
What a sad story. With that said, he played the gangster life. In my world, he's just another player with a gun who failed his family.
The one good thing about his death: He is no longer harming anyone. He was a criminal psychopath. Nothing more and nothing less.
What a well written story... sad and chilling to know that there are murderers on our street, passing by in cars or on foot, free for years and years, while families continue to mourn.What a shame for Smiley's daughter. I wonder if she knows the truth about her father, or if he sends money to support her.
Makes one wonder how many fathers have harmed their daughter's Mother. Even more deviously than using a gun. On this Father's Day week-end, it's also time to remember the father's who have destroyed their wives, ex-wives for their own self-interest and caused great harm to their children that will remain with them forever.