By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"If he met you, he would shake you down," says Efrain Bello, whose late brother, Bogart, was close to Torres and Ontiveros before his own bizarre death. Torres "didn't trust anybody. But he was extremely loyal. When my brother disappeared, he was the first person there. He wasn't afraid of anybody. He was well-respected on the streets."
Inside the home where Torres was slain, detectives found a man barely alive, who'd been shot in the back. Inside a sauna in Torres' bedroom, they found two duffel bags crammed with 40 handguns and assault rifles. Wedged between his mattress and box spring was a short rifle. Over his bedroom door a sign read EZ Street.
"None of the cars were registered in his [real] name," says Detective Gonzales. "He had no ties to anything. We talked to many of the neighbors and they had no idea. They just knew him as Sam. There were multiple people who said, 'Nice guy, we never would have known.' "
Detectives also found a high-tech system of monitors that would later provide chilling video evidence pointing directly to his friend Smiley as Torres' killer.
Anthony Limon, the victim found shot in the back, told detectives that he'd agreed as a favor to limo-service owner "Sam" to ferry around four guys in his Hummer limo that night, picking up the first three and taking them to a spot in the Long Beach area — the upscale Elephant Bar Restaurant in suburban Lakewood — where they picked up Smiley. Then it was on to El Parral Club in working-class South Gate, then several hours cruising in Hollywood, then back to Lakewood.
But one of the guys, who police later determined was Saenz, was restless. He ordered Limon to drive to Montebello, then at 5 a.m. ordered him to drive to the limo owner's home in Whittier.
Later, at a dramatic meeting between Traci Gonzales and FBI special agent Garriola, she showed him the video retrieved from that night. Like a scene out of The Ring, the video flickers with shadowy, ethereal black-and-white images of Saenz smiling and rubbing his hands together gleefully while knocking repeatedly on Torres' door. At one point, Saenz reaches into his pants pocket to check on something.
Torres is seen opening the door in his underwear, and the men barge in. Limon told police that inside, Smiley pulled a gun on Torres, so Limon jumped in front of Torres and pleaded with Smiley to calm down. Instead, Limon was hit on the head, and as he fell he heard one of the men he'd driven around all night bark out: "Dome him!" — street lingo for a bullet to the head. Before the shot slammed into his back, he recalled to cops, Limon heard someone giggle.
It was all about that vast amount of cash sitting back in Missouri, confiscated three months earlier by the St. Charles County cops, who pulled Torres over. "There was some money owed and a timetable," Garriola says. "Oscar didn't meet it."
Gonzales says Torres had already been forced, either by the local Mexican Mafia or the cartels in Mexico, to prove that the money had really been confiscated by the St. Charles deputies. "We heard through informants he took the letter [a receipt provided by the Missouri cops] and showed it to his people," she says.
A month after Torres' murder, Smiley's cousin Johnny Prado, who can be clearly seen in the video, was arrested for murder and attempted murder, and last November he went to prison for 26 years. His friends told police that he was an industrious construction worker, but Chavarria says he couldn't get away from the East L.A. gangs. "When they get older, they still have an allegiance," he says. "If they are called upon, they have to step up." Smiley is still out there, crossing back and forth between Mexico and California, cashing in and spreading mayhem. "It is like chasing a ghost," Chavarria notes.
Bogart Bello's grave site at the Calvary Mortuary in East Los Angeles is on a hill that overlooks the Virgin of Guadalupe Church on 3rd Street and gang territory where he grew up with his childhood friends Torres and Ontiveros. His tombstone reads: "Forever Living On The Top," an homage to his Lott gang. Most of those buried nearby are long dead, and visitors are few. But Efrain Bello tends his brother's site religiously.
"The police don't care," says Bello of his brother Bogart's death. "It's like another drug dealer dead. I don't think my life can continue until there is justice for my brother. To me it was the worst thing that could ever happen."
Efrain says Bogart Bello and Rolo Ontiveros became big-time dealers because they and their families "were dirt-poor." He admits that Bello earned his first $1 million by age 19, and by 2008 was handing out free coke samples to Hollywood celebrities and reaping $25,000 monthly in sales. Among his best coke customers were downtown L.A.'s big lawyer population.
But, he says, his brother tried to go into a legit business by founding Lott Records and producing rap songs, including one about the Lott gang.