By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Smiley should have finished his education at a high school on the east side. He didn't quite understand how the surveillance system worked. When L.A. County Sheriff detective Traci Gonzales saw that the DVD was missing, she took the security equipment to her tech guys, and they retrieved from its hard drive crystal-clear pictures of a Latino man cackling shortly before he blew away the doomed Torres. (Watch the video here.)
In a matter of days, LAPD Hollenbeck Division detectives viewing the tape recognized the executioner as former youthful tagger and LAUSD dropout Jose Saenz.
With that videotape in hand, the Los Angeles FBI office jumped into a hard-fought nationwide contest in 2009: They proposed Saenz for the government's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, and Special Agent Scott Garriola submitted a detailed five-page application to compete against 55 other FBI offices that insisted their fugitives were the baddest.
Garriola had a major edge. For nine years, he and his Fugitive Apprehension Team had been tracking a guy on the Top Ten, a man who had shot and seriously hurt an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy. That fugitive was caught in a rural town in Mexico last year, meaning Garriola was among the first to know that a spot on the Top Ten was about to open.
"The early bird catches the worm," laughs the 22-year-veteran agent, who, at any given time, tracks 40 to 50 rapists, murderers, dope dealers, and gangsters. "Who else knew there was going to be an opening but me?"
Smiley won the nationwide beauty contest. Last October, the FBI's deputy director announced on CNN that Saenz; Ukrainian-born Semion Mogilevich, wanted for his involvement in a multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud thousands of investors; and Eduardo Ravelo, a captain in the Juarez, Mexico-based Barrio Azteca criminal enterprise, would join the Ten Most Wanted list of international terrorists, cyber criminals, serial killers, and organized-crime figures, ranging from Osama bin Laden to Boston mobster James J. "Whitey" Bulger.
"You don't celebrate with drinks and a DJ," Garriola says. "It's not like we were high-fiving in the bullpen."
Now, the feds and local police hope that, with the extra funding and attention that automatically flow to any case on the famed list, the killer of his own daughter's mother will finally be hunted down. (The feds are offering $100,000 for tips leading to his conviction, and can be contacted at 310-477-6565.)
But even if authorities catch up to Smiley, one question may be unanswerable: How did a screwed-up teen raised in a rough American barrio rise to become one of the most vicious criminals in America, in all probability trained by cartels in Mexico, then sent back to represent the worst of both nations?
Smiley was the only child of a Marravia gang-member father and a mother with substance-abuse problems. He lived with his grandmother in a small backyard bungalow on rundown, historic Ferris Avenue just two blocks from the East Los Angeles Sheriff's Station. He spent much of his time with his cousins at the 29-acre Pico-Aliso projects, a five-minute drive from Los Angeles City Hall and the largest — some say the most dangerous — public-housing development west of the Mississippi.
Saenz was not one of those tortured kids who saw beyond the grimy walls and corruption inside Pico-Aliso and dreamed of escape. Even as a sly youngster, he was mired in it. Families lived in fear at the projects, which were controlled by several gangs, including the Cuatro Flats. In fact, the Cuatro Flats crime organization arose in 1942 soon after the projects — a disastrous social experiment that urban planners had insisted would lift up the poor — were erected.
In 1999, after years of pressure, the city of Los Angeles started tearing down Pico-Aliso's two-story buildings, grouped around yards that were entered through breezeways. In their place, developers constructed a complex of attractive detached and semi-detached single-family houses called Pueblo del Sol — which urban planners believed could transform L.A.'s inner-city areas. On the day demolition began, a pastor marched down the street, carrying a replica of the Virgin of Guadalupe — to bless Pico-Aliso's destruction.
On these streets in 1998, Smiley decided to return the insult done to his youthful gangster friend, 14-year-old Juan Pena, who'd been attacked by East L.A. 13 gangbangers Hernandez and Ponce. Seven days after that beating, LAPD Detective Chavarria says, as Pena looked on, the smiling Saenz casually approached the two young men as if to buy drugs, then shot Ponce in the chest, thigh, and back and Hernandez three times in the head.
Bullets delivered to the head would become Saenz's signature. As Hernandez and Ponce lay bleeding, Smiley advised his young pal never to leave a crime scene until he was sure his targets were dead. "He said, 'Sometimes they fake it or pretend they're dead,' " Chavarria says Pena told police.
For the next several days after those killings, Southern California was caught in a blistering heat wave. The sun-baked San Fernando Valley saw record temperatures of 107 degrees in Chatsworth; Los Angeles and Orange County authorities received more than 100 calls per minute from motorists stranded in overheated cars, and air-conditioning repair businesses helped people with busted coolers and boiling tempers.
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.