UPDATED: FBI ‘Ten Most Wanted’ fugitive, sought for 4 killings including one in North Whittier, captured in Mexico

One of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives suspected of killing four people including a North Whittier man, was arrested Thursday in Mexico and will be returned to Los Angeles, officials said.
Reputed Los Angeles gang member Joe Luis Saenz was taken into custody in Guadalajara following a joint operation with the Mexican government, said Bill Lewis, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office.
“Saenz will be returned from Mexico to Los Angeles this weekend under FBI escort,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a written statement.
Saenz is believed to be about 37 years old, though he has used numerous dates of birth over the years, officials said.
Saenz is suspected of the Oct. 5, 2008 fatal shooting of Oscar Torres, 37, in the 2200 block of Mardel Avenue which is in the unincorporated county area of North Whittier. A second man was shot but survived.
According to sheriff’s homicide detectives, Torres was killed because he lost $620,000 that allegedly belonged to Saenz. Torres denied owing the money.
During a traffic stop in Missouri, FBI officials said state troopers discovered the money in a secret panel of a rental car.
Authorities said they have videotape from a surveillance camera at Torres’ house that shows Saenz killing Torres and wounding a second man.
Investigators said Saenz also shot and killed two rival gang members in July 1998 to retaliate for an assault on one of his associates.
Saenz suspected Sigrieta Hernandez, his girlfriend and the mother of his daughter, was going to tell police about the slayings, investigators said. He is accused of kidnapping, raping and killing her less than two weeks later.
Saenz, who is about 37 years old, was believed to be hiding in Mexico, working as an enforcer and hit man for a Mexican drug cartel, officials said.
“Saenz has been described by gang associates and others as a major enforcer and hit-man for a Mexican drug cartel who is believed to be involved in importing cocaine into Los Angeles,” FBI officials said in a written statement upon adding him to the agency’s “Ten Most Wanted” list in October of 2009.
“In addition to the murders for which he is charged, Saenz is wanted for question for additional crimes, including kidnapping and murder. Saenz is considered a career criminal and is a known repeat offender, according to the FBI statement. “In addition, he has an extensive criminal history, including motor vehicle theft, assault with a deadly weapon, vandalism, and possession of narcotics.”
A U.S. citizen, investigators who were seeking Saenz suspected he was moving freely between the U.S. and Mexico using fraudulent identification, according to the FBI.
When place on the FBI’s most-wanted list in 2009, Saenz picture joined was placed among the ranks of Osama bin Laden, Boston crime lord James “Whitey” Bulger and other notorious criminals. There was a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to his arrest, however it was unclear Saturday if anyone would be claiming that reward.
More information was to be released Monday, officials said.

– Staff and wire reports

PHOTOS courtesy of the FBI

(Top): Undated photo of suspect Joe Saenz.

(Below): This surveillance camera image, provided by the FBI, pictures former
FBI fugitive Joe Luis Saenz, believed to be about 37 years old,
moments before allegedly fatally shooting a man in the 2200 block of
Mardel Avenue in an unincorporated county area north of Whittier on
Oct. 5, 2008. Saenz was captured in Mexico on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.

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Statistics show bank robberies on the decline

LOS ANGELES COUNTY — Bank robberies in Los Angeles County and across the state have hit a 10-year low, according to the FBI.
Annual bank robbery statistics released by the FBI Wednesday indicate that officials investigated 122 bank robberies in the county in 2011, compared with 168 in 2010.
With the exception of a moderate uptick in bank heists in 2008 and 2009, bank robberies in Los Angeles county have been steadily waning since 2002, when 401 such crimes were reported.
58208-EXPLOSIVE THREAT bandit-thumb-300x333-58207.jpeg
A similar trend was seen statewide, where 677 bank robberies took place in 2011, down from 779 in 2010 and 1,405 in 2002, according to the FBI report.
“The decrease in overall robberies is attributable in part to closer cooperation among law enforcement agencies, successful prosecution by the United States Attorney’s Office and its counterparts at the district attorney’s offices, as well as a more proactive approach by the banking community in the implementation of additional security measures,” FBI officials said in a written statement.
“In addition, media coverage of increasingly clear bank surveillance photographs, and rewards offered by banks and law enforcement (have) contributed to the community’s awareness and has generated valuable assistance from the public in the identification of unknown subjects,” the statement said.
According to the data, California saw about twice the number of bank robberies as any other state. New York comes in second with 339 bank robberies reported in 2011.
Bank heists have been on a steady decline since the early 1990s, officials added.
The FBI’s Los Angeles Field Officer serves seven Southern California Counties including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
Though yearly numbers show bank robberies declining, “In January 2012, the pace of bank robberies has increased and so far this year, 40 bank robberies have been reported in the seven-county area, primarily in Los Angeles and Orange counties, followed by Riverside County.
About 12 percent of the heists reported to the Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI were “takeovers” — in which employees or customers are held hostage during the crime.
Along with the updated statistics, the FBI Wednesday issued a list of the region’s top ten wanted serial bank robbers.
58210-LIFT AND SHOW bandit-thumb-300x396-58209.jpg
They include the “Explosive Threat Bandit,” tied to six L.A. County bank robberies since November — the first of which took place at a West Covina Bank of America Branch; as well as the “Lift and Show Bandit,” linked to three bank robberies in La Puente, West Covina and Pico Rivera since December.
Seven suspected serial bank robbers who have been operating in the Los Angeles area have been arrested this month, including the prolific “Market Duo,” “Bubble Wrap” and “Puffy Coat” bandits.
Anyone with information about a bank robber at-large is asked to call the FBI’s 24-hour tip line in Los Angeles at 310-477-6565.
PHOTOS of the “Explosive Threat Bandit” (top) and the “Lift and Show Bandit,” (below) courtesy of the FBI.
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Justice and FBI to monitor California elections

From a Justice Department Press release:

As part of the Justice Department’s nationwide Election Day Program for the upcoming general elections, Assistant United States Attorney Dennis Mitchell will again serve as the District Election Officer during the November 2 general election, United States Attorney Andr Birotte Jr. announced Friday.

Since 2006, AUSA Mitchell has served as District Election Officer to handle citizen complaints concerning potential violations of the federal Voting Rights Act.

As District Election Officer during next week’s balloting, AUSA Mitchell will ensure that complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses made to federal authorities will be properly handled and, if appropriate, thoroughly investigated.

AUSA Mitchell will serve as District Election Officer for the Central District of California, which includes the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

“Every allegation of any voting rights abuse is an extremely serious matter,” said United States Attorney Andr Birotte Jr. “Every citizen is entitled to vote without interference or discrimination. Citizens should not hesitate to report possible violations of voting rights laws.”

Have a complaint? Register it at: 213- 894-2484 to report possible election fraud and voting rights abuses.

The FBI will also make special agents available to hear complaints. Their number is 310-477-6565.

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FBI seeks 20 Questions Bandits

Press release from Laura Eimiller at the FBI:


FBI Agents and detectives with multiple law enforcement agencies in three counties are seeking the public’s assistance in learning the identity of the “20 Questions Bandits,” a group of at least four unidentified men believed to be responsible for eleven takeover bank robberies in Ventura, Orange and Los Angeles Counties.

U.S. Bank, East West Bank, Cathay Bank and several Bank of America locations were targeted by the bandits. Bank of America is offering a reward of up to $100,000* in exchange for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals responsible for these robberies.

During the various robberies, the bandits were extremely violent and, in some cases, displayed weapons. Witnesses have described four black males, in some cases armed with guns, who have forced bank employees and customers inside the bank to comply with their demands for cash and to follow their instructions.

In some cases, the bandits also robbed victims of personal belongings. During the initial robberies linked to this group, the suspects asked several questions while inside the bank, according towitnesses and were, therefore, nicknamed the “20 Questions Bandits.”

The most recent robbery attributed to the “20 Questions Bandits” occurred on April 2, 2010 at a Bank of America in the city of Newport Beach.

The group is also believed responsible for robberies in El Monte and Rowland Heights, Eimiller said.

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FBI names new head of Los Angeles Field Office

This from FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller:

FBI Director, Robert Mueller, has named two veteran agents, Daphne Hearn and Bill Lewis, to serve in the position of Special Agent in Charge (SAC) in the Los Angeles Field Office. Additional information about SAC Lewis and Hearn can be found in the attachments; their photos are also attached.

Background on Los Angeles FBI hierarchy:

The Los Angeles Field Office is headed up by an Assistant Director in Charge, who is chiefly responsible for all operations in the seven counties that comprise the Central District of California. (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, SLO, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino and Riverside).

The Assistant Director in Los Angeles oversees four individuals who carry the title, “Special Agent in Charge,” who are responsible for the following four branches, in no particular order of importance here, covering all FBI program areas:

  • Criminal Division
  • Counterterrorism Division
  • Counterintelligence & Cyber Division
  • Intelligence Division

SAC Lewis and SAC Hearn will serve as SAC of the Criminal Division and the Intelligence Division, respectively.

Director Mueller also recently appointed Steven Martinez as Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. Mr. Martinez, who most recently was in charge of the FBI in Las Vegas, will replace Salvador Hernandez, who recently retired. Mr. Martinez will report to Los Angeles later this month and I will issue a press release locally at that time to announce his formal arrival.

SAC Hearn and SAC Lewis are expected to arrive Los Angeles within the next several weeks.

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Anna Nicole’s FBI files

The FBI Friday released several documents from its files on actress/model Anna Nicole Smith.

Among the files, an FBI investigation into whether or not Anna Nicole plotted a murder.
From the site:
The third matter regarding Ms. Smith that the FBI investigated was an allegation that she contemplated the murder of E. Pierce Marshall, the son of her deceased husband. There are three sections to this release: 166C-LA-223601; 166C-LA-223601, 1A, Volume 1; and 166C-LA-223601, 1A, Volume 2. This release consists of one section of investigative case file and two volumes of 1A envelopes. 1A envelopes contain case materials retained as evidence (in this instance, materials like interview notes), documents obtained from other police agencies, and other items gathered in the course of the investigation. All of these files are redacted because of laws protecting personal privacy.
Here’s the link.
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FBI opens investigation into Burbank PD

This from the Burbank Leader:

CITY HALL — Four days after the city released a statement calling the latest lawsuit filed against its Police Department “baseless and disingenuous,” Mayor Gary Bric on Tuesday said the FBI was investigating the allegations.

He also announced that the Burbank Police Department was being investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which was to turn over its findings to the county district attorney’s office, paving the way for the city to bring in its own outside attorney to review the allegations.

Seven current and former members of the Burbank Police Department have filed lawsuits since May, claiming everything from unfair demotion and retaliation, to sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

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Homeboy Alex Sanchez gets no bail, but it’s ain’t over yet

From Celeste Fremon at Witness LA:

Here’s what she writes:

Alex Sanchez had a second bail hearing on Wednesday afternoon. He did not get bail. Nor was he denied it.

Alex, if you’ll remember, is the former MS-13 gang member turned highly honored gang intervention leader and head of the well-regarded nonprofit, Homies Unidos. A month ago, Sanchez was named in a federal racketeering indictment and accused of plotting the murder of a rival gang member. The case alleges Sanchez was leading a double life: while a good guy by day, by night he was the premier shot caller–AKA leader–of a particularly violent clique of MS-13.

At the last bail hearing held on June 30, 110 people wrote letters of support–including city leaders and a wide array of clergy. Friends and colleagues put up $1.2 million in surities against any bail. To sweeten the deal, Tom Hayden put up his house toward the hoped for bond. Sanchez was denied bail anyway.

Sanchez’s attorney appealed the bail decision, and Wednesday’s hearing was the result. But rather than settle the matter, U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real decided to continue the bail issue until August 17, nearly a month from now.

On the surface this might sound like just another case of justice delayed.
But, there is a lot more to this story.

In case you are interested, here’s a copy of the Alex Sanchez indictment.
And, a piece written by Tom Hayden for The Nation.

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FBI agents train at “Body Farm”

FBI agents honed their skills in identifying and collecting evidence from bodies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in May at the annual “Body Farm” field study class. Bodies are buried and left to decompose so that agents can dig them up, study them and gain experience in body recovery.

The following comes from the FBI’s Web site:

The bug expert gathered FBI agents around the table to introduce his maggots. He selected a mature one from a watery dish and held it up to his eyepiece, staring through its translucent carapace like a jeweler appraising a precious stone.

“All of these, if you look, have a gut in them,” said Dr. Ian Dadour, a forensic entomologist, explaining how pinpointing a maggot’s age can tell a lot about what it’s eating. “So this means they’re still feeding…they haven’t used all their food up.”


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