Jose "Joe" Luis Saenz, a reputed drug cartel associate wanted for four murders in Los Angeles, was captured in Mexico on Thursday and flown back to Los Angeles Friday night, according to the FBI.
Arrested Thursday afternoon in Guadalajara, Mexico, Saenez reportedly told journalists that he was "not guilty for life" as he was placed in a car.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told KPCC that the 37-year-old Saenz is being held in local custody, and that the LAPD and the LA Sheriff's Department have murder cases against him. She said officials will reveal more details at an FBI-LAPD-LASD news conference on Monday, but for now, "there are several details we're sorting out in terms of how much can be said."
Eimiller said the FBI worked with Mexican police agencies to arrest Saenz, who had been on the run since 1998. She said the operation lasted several days, and that authorities took Saenz into custody without incident.
She said she could not confirm reports that Saenz had been working as a cartel hit man or enforcer; she called him a "cartel associate."
An FBI Top Ten Most Wanted fugitive, the East L.A. gang member allegedly killed two rivals in 1998. The FBI says that he later kidnapped, raped and murdered his girlfriend, Sigrieta Hernandez, the mother of his child. Hernandez had threatened to turn in Saenz for the July 1998 killings, according to the FBI. Authorities also say they have video of Saenz killing Oscar Torres in 2008 in Whittier over a $600,000 drug debt.
Saenz's capture underscores the improved relationship between US and Mexican police, according to David Shirk, Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. He says in the past, both countries were reluctant to cooperate with each other in matters of law enforcement.
“I think that reflects change in perspective on both sides," Shirk says. "U.S. authorities recognize that there are good people to work with south of the border, and Mexican authorities recognize that collaboration or cooperation with U.S. authorities does not mean they have to surrender their autonomy or their sovereignty.”
If Saenz was working for a Mexican drug cartel, Shirk says the case could shed light on the relationship between U.S. gangs and Mexico’s cartels.
“It really will provide some insight into the workings of Mexico’s organized crime groups and the extent to which ties to U.S. gangs and gang members have helped them to engage in their illicit drug trafficking activities over the last several years,” he says.
Saenz had numerous aliases, including: Gabriel Saenz, Gabriel Luis Saenx, Gabriel Luis Saenz, Louie Luis Saenz, Louis Joe Saenz, "Zapp", "Smiley", Peanut Joe Smiley, "Honeycutt", Jose Luis Saenz-Honeycutt, Giovanni Vasquez, "Toro", Giovanni Velasquez, Giovanni Gonzalez, Giovanni Torres, "Peanut", Peanut Saenz, Peanut Smiley, and Louie Sanez, according to the FBI.
This story was updated Nov. 24 at 12:15 p.m and at 4:21 p.m.