FBI — A Los Angeles man charged with multiple homicides and listed in 2009 as one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, was taken into custody after a joint operation with the Mexican government earlier this week, following a multi-year search by the FBI’s Fugitive Task Force, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, announced Bill Lewis, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
Joe Luis Saenz, 37, was arrested during the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 23rd following a successful arrest operation by Mexican law enforcement who acted on information developed by the Fugitive Task Force in Los Angeles. Assistant Director Lewis expressed thanks to the Mexican government for providing a team of officers to safely execute the arrest of Mr. Saenz and commended the coordination by the FBI’s Legal Attaché in Mexico City and its Guadalajara Sub-Office.
Saenz, a U.S. citizen, first came to the attention of law enforcement when LAPD detectives identified him as the suspect in the 1998 murder of two men in the Hollenbeck area of Los Angeles. Less than two weeks later, Saenz is believed to have kidnapped, raped, and murdered Sigreta Fernandez, the mother of his child.
Soon after, Saenz was charged with three counts of murder, kidnapping, and rape for the alleged crimes, and an arrest warrant was issued in Los Angeles County Court on Aug. 12, 1998. When detectives with the LAPD determined Saenz had fled the state of California, the FBI joined the investigation and obtained a federal arrest warrant on Jan. 23, 2002. Saenz was charged with Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution in violation of 18 United States Code, Section 1073, after a criminal complaint was filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
During the search for Saenz, the Fugitive Task Force covered hundreds of leads, including sightings of Saenz, based on the media coverage. The Task Force recently developed information indicating that Saenz was living in a neighborhood in Guadalajara, Mexico, in violation of Mexico’s immigration law.
The Task Force then worked through the FBI’s Legal Attaché in Mexico to enlist the assistance of Mexican law enforcement in order to legally take Saenz into custody. Surveillance of the vicinity and attempts to arrest Saenz went on for several days before a resident in an area apartment was identified as Saenz.
For the safety of all involved, various precautions were taken before attempting to arrest Saenz, including the use of a tactical team. Saenz was taken into custody safely and without incident during the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day. He was held overnight in a local police facility in Guadalajara and was flown back to Los Angeles, escorted by FBI Agents, on Friday evening. After landing at Los Angeles International Airport, Saenz was immediately turned over to the custody of the LAPD.
“The capture of Joe Saenz is both proof that the publicity afforded by the Top Ten List is a valuable investigative tool, and a testament to the persistence of the agents and officers on the FBI’s Fugitive Task Force who worked with homicide detectives in the city and county of Los Angeles,” said Assistant Director Lewis. “Mr. Saenz ran, but ultimately couldn’t hide, from those committed to finding him so that the families of his alleged victims might find justice.”
The latest murder for which Saenz is wanted occurred in Oct. 2008 when Oscar Torres was killed in his Whittier home. Detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department believe Saenz murdered Torres in connection with a drug debt. Saenz is also wanted for shooting and wounding a second man the same evening. The Torres murder was captured on the victim’s home surveillance videotape system and Saenz was identified as the killer.
“The arrest and capture of suspect Saenz is a great example of the tenacious effort and hard work of all the detectives involved,” said Sheriff of Los Angeles County, Leroy Baca. ”We are pleased that after a decade long investigation that we are able to bring this dangerous fugitive to justice.”
Saenz was added to the FBI’s Ten Mosted Wanted list in 2009. Saenz is the 492nd person to have been added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, and the 467th to be captured.
“The people of Los Angeles are safer today, thanks to the hard work and perseverance of our FBI/LAPD Fugitive Task Force, our great partners at the FBI and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office,” said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. “The message to violent criminals is clear, no matter how far you run, or how long it takes, we will find you and bring you to justice.”
It is anticipated that the United States government will dismiss the federal warrant charging Saenz with Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution, and that Saenz will remain in custody in Los Angeles County while he awaits prosecution for the state murder charges by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
The separate homicide investigations in which Saenz is charged are being investigated by detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD. The fugitive investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Los Angeles Fugitive Task Force, which is comprised of members from the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department.
The Mexican operation that led to the successful arrest of Saenz was conducted by the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (Secretariat of Public Security/Mexican Federal Police); the Instituto Nacional de Migracion (Mexican National Institute of Immigration) and the Procuraduria General de la Republica (Mexican Attorney General), and coordinated internationally by FBI’s Legal Attaché in Mexico City and its Guadalajara Sub-Office. The Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service provided assistance during the fugitive investigation.
The return of Saenz was sponsored by the United States government’s “Project Welcome Home,” which provides funding for the transportation of FBI fugitives to the United States, where the repatriation by the host country occurs through deportation or extradition.