Killing for the Cartel

Police believe East LA high-school dropout Jose Saenz has killed a good friend and the mother of his daughter

Efrain says Bogart Bello and Rolo Ontiveros became big-time dealers because they and their families “were dirt-poor.” He admits that Bogart earned his first $1 million by age 19 and, by 2008, was reaping $25,000 monthly thanks to cocaine funneled from Mexico. Among Bogart’s best coke customers were downtown LA’s lawyer population.

But, Efrain says, his brother tried to go into a legit business by founding Lott Records and producing a number of rap songs, the lyrics of which were often about the Lott gang.

In 2008, Bogart was found dead in the back seat of his Audi Q7 on Chamberlain Street in Mission Hills, a stone’s throw from the 118 freeway. After police turned up few clues, a detective hired by Efrain discovered that Bogart and Smiley had just been involved in a drug deal in which Smiley disliked the quality of the coke and “took it as a great disrespect.”

Brian Stauffer
Saenz shoots the fallen Oscar Torres in the face at close range in Torres' front yard
Saenz shoots the fallen Oscar Torres in the face at close range in Torres' front yard

Chavarria and Gonzales believe Smiley kidnapped and probably killed Bogart, but, LAPD Foothills Division homicide supervisor Jim Freund says, “We can’t prove that he was kidnapped. That came from the brother. . . . Obviously, someone dropped him off in the position” in which he was found, lying in the back seat with a bag pulled over his head.

But when it comes to murders and kidnappings in Southern California linked to Jose Saenz, detective Gonzales says, “People aren’t willing to cooperate and talk about what is going on and what is happening.”

Short of a confession from Smiley, Bogart’s death will go down as accidental, a reminder that the cross-border drug carnage in America’s cities—fueled by Smiley and young boys who grow up to be like him, as well as their willing customers—is never fully measured.

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