Daniel Crespo Jr. was in class last fall when his mother, Lyvette, called. He let it go to voice mail. She texted him: “Please come home. It's your dad.”
Daniel Jr. was 19, small and shy — as he would later admit to the prosecutor, the meekest of the family. Lyvette thought Daniel Jr.'s presence would calm his father, shame him into not beating her, as he had often done before.
When Daniel Jr. arrived home, Lyvette seemed jumpy, anxious. His father wasn't there.
“What's going on?” he asked.
“Just go to your room,” she answered.
The front door blew open at around 2:30 p.m. The mayor of Bell Gardens, Daniel Crespo, stormed in. He found Lyvette in the office, a cluttered room on the second floor near the staircase. She later said she could sense his fury in the way his eyebrows arched and nose flared. He locked the door.
“Please don't do this,” Lyvette pleaded, as she later told detectives.”Shut the fuck up,” her husband replied.
She says he punched her, first in the back. Then again, in her face. From his bedroom, Daniel Jr. heard scuffling, and his mother cry out: “What did I do? What did I do?”
According to testimony and documents presented to a grand jury that indicted Lyvette Crespo, and upon which this story is based, Daniel Jr. darted out of his room and pounded on the office door. He had never confronted his father before. But then, it had been a while since he'd seen the violence unfolding.
“Open the door!” he yelled. “Stop!”
The door swung open. His father glared at him. Crespo was 46, with olive skin and a black goatee. Roughly the same height as his son, he had at least 50 pounds on him.
“Don't fuck with me, son,” he growled.
According to Daniel Jr.'s grand jury testimony, his father came at him. Daniel Jr. tried to grab his dad's hands, but he couldn't. The first punch landed just above the son's right eye.
Daniel Jr. stumbled backward, down the stairs toward the living room. He grabbed the wooden bannister but it broke, and he tumbled down to the landing. He got up and threw a glass snow globe at his dad, though he wouldn't recall it.
“Let's go!” he shouted at his father. “Fuck!” He let the rage flow as he never had. His dad came down the stairs. As Daniel Jr. retreated to the first floor, luring his father away from his mother, he repeated: “Let's go!”
“Don't fuck with me, son,” Crespo said, following.
“Don't fuck with me, son.”
His father was nearly at the bottom when he turned abruptly. There was Lyvette, on the landing, a Beretta 9mm pistol in her hands. Three shots rattled the air.
“No more!” Daniel Jr. heard his mom cry, as his father fell back, slumping on the living room floor. “No more.”
Lyvette was married to Daniel Crespo 23 years, according to a source who knows her. But in family lore, the couple often said they were married for 28 years, from the time she was 14. When detectives asked when it started to go bad — the problems, the violence — Lyvette answered, “Since year one.”
Daniel Crespo grew up in 1980s Bushwick, a poverty-stricken part of Brooklyn ravaged by arson. He and his older brother, William, were raised by a single mother, Otilia. Growing up with eight cousins on one block in a tight-knit Puerto Rican family, they never knew their father.
Crespo's lifelong nickname was Tony, after John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever. He was magnetic, full of passion. His youngest cousin, Gilberto Torres, says he “would give the shirt off his back.”
When he met Lyvette, he was 14, she just 11 and from an unstable home. She would sometimes sneak into his house at night to sleep.
One day, Crespo was injured while riding the Cyclone, the famed wooden roller coaster at Coney Island. He received a $100,000 settlement and used it to escape Bushwick with his wife and brother.
They landed in Bell Gardens — not exactly an earthly paradise — a 2.4-square-mile industrial city in southeast L.A. County. Their daughter, Crystal, was born in 1987. Lyvette was 15. Daniel graduated from Cal State L.A., the first of the cousins to earn a college degree. In 1991, he became an L.A. County probation officer.
In 1996, shortly after their second child, Daniel Jr., was born, they bought a townhouse in a gated community, Viñas la Campana, built with government subsidies and church loans for people earning as little as $21,000 a year.
That year, Lyvette took Crystal to a friend's birthday party. When they returned, her husband asked her what they'd bought for a present. “A little radio,” she answered, a story she would tell detectives after she shot her husband
“What?” Crespo exclaimed. “With my fucking money?”
“No, Crystal had money,” she said. “We went to the 99 [cent] store and we bought her a little radio.”
“You don't be fucking spending my money,” he said. And with that, he punched her in the nose, breaking it. Blood sprayed, some hitting the ceiling.
And that was Daniel Crespo's temper.
“He would go from zero to 100,” Crystal later told the grand jury. When she was 16, her mom was driving the family home from church when, without warning, Crespo punched his wife in the side of the face. Lyvette said nothing, just kept driving.
As Lyvette drove the family home from church
Crespo genuinely appeared to believe domestic abuse was acceptable. During his brief stint on Twitter, using the screen name @princeofpr (for Prince of Puerto Rico), he addressed singer Chris Brown regarding Rihanna: “Don't apologize anymore … People will capitalize in it [sic]. It will die out as everything else.”
The family lived in fear of what Crespo might do next. After Lyvette shot her husband, Crystal told her boyfriend, “I thought it would be my mom's body on the floor.”
A few years after arriving in Bell Gardens, Daniel Crespo went to see Maria Chacon. Chacon wasn't just a member of Bell Gardens City Council, she was a power broker — the power broker.
He brought Lyvette.
“He came in and presented himself with his wife,” Chacon recalls. “He heard about me, visited me at my office. He did most of the talking. He was very serious. She was quiet. She was looking lost, looking in the corner, sitting down crooked. She seemed … not happy.”
Still, Chacon was impressed. Crespo seemed like a serious young man, an ambitious one, and she was always on the lookout for City Council candidates. She made a mental note.
Bell Gardens politics are provincial. City Council members and the mayor serve part-time, and give their cellphone numbers to residents. On Election Day, sound trucks roam the streets touting candidates.
But it's a rough-and-tumble business dominated by warring Latino factions and sweetheart deals. Violence is not unheard of in the aging Southeast towns that include Cudahy, Bell and South Gate. In 1999, South Gate mayor Henry Gonzalez was shot in the head (miraculously, he recovered). The unsolved crime was believed to be politically motivated.
Even politics on the Viñas la Campana housing association board, to which Crespo was elected in 1997, were marked by recall campaigns and a lawsuit over the board's “autocratic” and “mean-spirited” rule. At one point the board ordered 28 residents locked out of a community gym, hired “an armed guard” and leveled petty fines against them.
At a housing association board meeting in 1999, Crespo allegedly opened his jacket to reveal a holstered handgun and said, “I can shoot anyone who yells at me.” Questioned by police, Crespo denied bringing a gun and claimed one of his accusers had said, “The only way we can stop you dictating [is] if we shoot you.”
Crespo was suspended from work for five days.
In 1999, Crespo ran for Bell Gardens City Council. He came in last, with 80 votes. “He was new in our city,” Chacon says.
The next year, Chacon pulled off a startling coup: She resigned from City Council and, hours later, got the council to appoint her to the city manager job at three times the salary. That caught the attention of L.A. County district attorney Steve Cooley. Chacon was forced to resign, but not before helping Crespo get elected to Bell Gardens City Council in 2001.
Crespo campaigned with a slate of other council seat winners — but fell out with them almost immediately. Mario Beltran, who later joined the City Council, says, “He wanted to call the shots.” Crespo began raving against his colleagues in public meetings. Another elected official says, “He was a conspiracy theorist at heart. He said, 'You guys are trying to pull a fast one on us, you're hiding something from me, you're always against me.'”
Bell Gardens has a modest annual budget of around $40 million. About 40 percent of its revenue comes from the Bicycle Casino. Other city expenditures are covered by taxes and fees. Crespo played the populist, opposing any and all fee increases.
His untenable position won Crespo the respect of activists. He attended every funeral and every car-wash fundraiser. When someone was killed, he called a press conference. He was popular — everywhere except City Hall.
He'd had been in office little more than a year when he tried to seduce the 28-year-old City Council secretary, Diana Gonzalez. Almost immediately after she was hired, according to a lawsuit she filed, she “became the subject of sexual commentary, unwanted sexual advances, invitations and harassment” by councilman Crespo.
After five months of rejection, Crespo told city manager John Ornelas to fire Gonzalez, calling her a “money-hungry bitch,” according to a memo Ornelas would later write to the City Council. Ornelas transferred Gonzalez to a low-level post at the Department of Recreation and Community Services. Even that wasn't good enough for the irate Crespo, who demanded she be fired. She was, and two years later, Gonzalez sued the city; she won a settlement of $70,000.
Deeply embarrassed when news of the settlement got out, Crespo turned his ire toward fellow council members and, most of all, city manager Ornelas.
“I am disgusted with your repeated dirty tactics,” Crespo wrote in a memo to Ornelas in 2003. “You have created a hostile environment for me at City Hall and I plan to take the necessary actions to put an end to your mismanagement and abuse.” Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez responded in a memo of her own: “Mr. Crespo, you are the one initiating a hostile environment at City Hall.”
In 2004, when Crespo learned he wasn't scheduled to speak at a carnival to mark Cesar Chavez's birthday, he threatened to kick the city manager's ass. Another time, he told Ornelas, according to Ornelas' memo, “You fuck with Crespo and you will fuck yourself. … You fuck with Crespo and you are a dead man.”
Ornelas felt threatened enough to seek a restraining order against Crespo, which was denied. Before he finally resigned, Ornelas wrote in a memo, “I have never experienced in my career a man with such vengeance, hate, volatile and violent behavior.”
If paranoia and anger ruled Crespo's public life, it defined his private one.
“He had said, 'A woman who cheats should be sliced from head to toe,'” Lyvette told detectives. “We couldn't watch a movie that had to do with infidelity, because he'd change the channel. He would say, 'I don't need you getting any ideas.'”
The sight of Lyvette so much as talking to a waiter or hugging a family friend could send Crespo into a jealous rage.
He was obsessed with control; he forbid her to leave the house without calling to tell him where she was going, and then calling again when she returned.
“I don't have any friends,” she told detectives. “I am not allowed to go out, unless it's with him.”
Unlike most politicians, Crespo rarely brought his wife to events. Some thought he was embarrassed by Lyvette, by her appearance and manners — she was shy, and cursed a lot.
Within City Hall, it was an open secret that Crespo slept around. Lyvette knew he socialized with other women, and suspected him of a few one-night stands.
But Patty Olivas was different.
Olivas, 35, met Crespo at a car-wash fundraiser in May 2012. Each was married with two children. They started seeing each other in September. By March, she was pregnant. They decided to raise the baby together, but, as she told the grand jury, it was an ectopic pregnancy and she had to terminate it. She declined comment for this story.
In May, at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, they held a “commitment ceremony,” a faux wedding. Olivas wore a white dress, Crespo a black tuxedo. They exchanged rings and vows that they would someday be together.
More than anything, Crespo wanted to be mayor. Eventually, a truce was brokered: Crespo would drop the role of paranoid populist bomb-thrower, and the council would appoint him mayor. In a rather astonishing reversal, he agreed, allying with the majority and betraying his activist political base.
He became mayor in July 2013. It was everything he wanted. But his private life continued to spin off its axis.
His affair with Olivas was a tempestuous one. They made a sex tape (with which he later threatened her). They fought constantly. He hit her. To make him jealous, Olivas slept with a Bell Gardens city official, according to her testimony.
Even after this epic betrayal, Crespo appeared to invest more energy in his relationship with Olivas than with his wife.
When Olivas tried to kill herself by taking 30 Ativans, Crespo agreed to couples counseling — something he had refused Lyvette. He helped with Olivas' kids, took them to Knott's Berry Farm. When Crespo ran for re-election, it was Olivas who walked precincts with him, knocking on doors into the night.
Yet Crespo was conflicted. In November 2013, he wrote in the notes application of his iPhone, which he used as a diary: “What angers me is that I have a good woman in my house [and] what Patty [and] I have is not love.”
By then, Lyvette knew every detail of the affair — she'd figured out her husband's password and was reading his texts. She knew about the Gage House, a rooming house her husband owned, where he kept a spare bedroom. He claimed it was for karaoke; she called it his “man cave.”
She pleaded that he stop seeing Olivas, texting, “Plz let this end … it is torture on me.”
“Let it take its course,” he texted back.
The same rage that drove Crespo toward violence now began to steer Lyvette, whose vitriol poured into hundreds of text messages.
“I can give 25-life out of my life,” read one. “That's how much time I would do if I get fucking fed up [and] reach the point that I would seriously without a doubt kill that BITCH. Then it will really be over.”
On Feb. 28, 2014, Lyvette confronted Olivas and Crespo at the Gage House, pounding on the door, ordering them to come out. She punched the window, shattering it. After Crespo dragged her away, she keyed Olivas' car and wrote “whore” in black marker on the hood.
That night, Lyvette described the incident in the notes section of her iPhone, which she too used as a diary. “Even after all this Danny made love to me,” she wrote. “[I don't know] if it was out of pity or guilt or because he genuinely wanted to. He told me, 'I should have never stopped fucking you.'”
The next day, he joked to Lyvette that they should have a threesome. She was not amused.
In March, Crespo and Olivas split up. But soon Crespo started seeing Tanisha Morales, a bartender at Del Rio Lanes in Downey, where Crespo often sang karaoke. Morales did not respond to the Weekly's request for an interview. Lyvette discovered the tryst when she saw $13.17 in flowers charged to her husband's credit card.
“I'll find out who the fuck u got flowers for,” she texted to him. “Has to be a bell gardens whore.”
Olivas and Lyvette started texting each other to commiserate. Olivas offered Lyvette advice.
“You need to vent to someone that is not your family and get perspective,” Olivas texted.
“Wtf,” Lyvette texted back. “Yeah I do need to vent to someone.. U know I have no one … No friends to talk to. I'm sure he told u that … right?”
“Yes and he wants it that way,” Olivas replied. “So no one can tell you to snap out of it.” She added: “I am not saying to leave him, I am saying wake up.”
For years, Lyvette was a sort-of secretary, helping her husband with his rental properties and his job as a probation officer. Their texts alternated between profanity-laden accusations and questions about his case numbers.
She was expected to play doting housewife. “I may kick and scream to myself, and cry,” she told detectives. “But the next morning, I wake up and I get him his cup of coffee. And I get him his breakfast. And I iron his clothes.”
And he demanded sex. He fumed when she slept on the couch, at times physically dragging her upstairs.
Lyvette had intermittently brought up divorce. According to her husband's brother, William, as early as 2004 she said that when Daniel Jr. turned 18 she “was going to split, leave him and take him for whatever he has.”
By June 2014, Lyvette was at her breaking point.
“Death would be better then this hell your [sic] putting me through…” she texted her husband. “Divorce. Me.”
She told him she didn't want his rental properties, only their Viñas townhouse and some alimony.
“Get d fuck out of here u r not my mf child,” he texted.
Money was tight. At least half of Crespo's rental properties were worth less than he owed on them. He had credit card debt. Olivas later told the grand jury that she heard Crespo negotiating with a creditor, “because at that time, he was completely financially going down.”
He'd also been diagnosed with testicular cancer. “He was fighting cancer on and off,” says his friend Randy Economy, a weekend radio show host. “He had several operations. It was not fun for him to have to go through treatments. It scared him. He realized he was a frail individual.”
In June, Olivas and Crespo got back together.
“I was angry [about Tanisha Morales] because I thought that I had left him for him to be with his wife,” Olivas told the grand jury. If Crespo was going to have an affair, she reasoned, it may as well be with her.
Now it was Morales who showed up at the Gage House, baseball bat in hand, banging on the door, according to her own and Olivas' grand jury testimony. Lyvette responded with a litany of apoplectic text messages to Olivas, her onetime confidante.
“I hope u get aids BITCH,” she texted.
Lyvette again demanded a divorce, this time insisting she didn't want anything. The Crespos cursed each other repeatedly, as if hate was all they had left.
On Monday, Sept. 29, Crespo took a day off and went to Catalina Island for Olivas' birthday. They went parasailing, ate lunch by the dock and shared an ice cream cone.
That night, Lyvette noticed his sunburn.
“You know, you think I'm stupid,” Lyvette said to him (according to what she told detectives). “Somebody who was supposed to be at work all day wouldn't look like that.”
The next day, Crespo insisted he'd been outside lugging around a printer that needed a toner cartridge. As evidence, he sent Lyvette a recording of him talking to a co-worker about it. In the recording, the co-worker says, “What do you mean she doesn't believe it? What kind of relationship do you have with your wife?”
When Lyvette heard this, she was livid.
“Tell ur FAGGOT co-worker to shut the fuck up fucking bastard,” she texted. “To answer his mf question … 'the relationship I have with my wife is that I am CONTINUOUSLY EVERYDAY cheating on her!'”
“Fuck u!!!” Crespo texted back. “Rot in hell u mf piece of shit!!”
“I responded to the audio YOU sent me … That's all,” Lyvette texted.
To which Crespo replied: “With the rage I have woman!!! You shouldn't be pushing my buttons!!!”
Olivas tried to calm him down, texting: “It's crazy that the people that we have helped so much in their mf lifetime are the ones trying to rip us to shreds.”
He never responded. By the time her next text arrived, he had three holes in his chest. It read: “We will get through this I promise you.”
After the gunshots, Daniel Jr. approached his father warily.
“Daniel,” his dad said, gasping for air. “Call 911.”
In tears, Daniel Jr. dialed 911, saying: “It wasn't my mom's fault. She was defending herself.”
Policemen responding recognized the mayor in a pool of blood, still breathing. One asked, “What happened?”
“I'm not going to tell you anything,” the mayor replied. “I can't move my fucking legs.” He died in the operating room.
When detectives told Lyvette he was dead, she screamed. “No, he's not,” she sobbed. “I just wanted him to stop. Oh, God.”
District Attorney Jackie Lacey was in the unenviable position of charging a battered wife with murder. She convened a grand jury, tasked with deciding whether Lyvette Crespo should be charged with homicide or manslaughter. The jurors chose voluntary manslaughter, deciding that she acted out of fear for her son's life, but that her fear was unfounded or exaggerated. She's currently out on bail, awaiting trial.
When contacted by L.A. Weekly, Lyvette Crespo hung up the phone. Her lawyer also declined to comment.
That a violent life should end violently is, perhaps, no great surprise. Daniel Crespo always believed people were out to get him. Randy Economy had lunch with him once at a Denny's in Commerce. There, Crespo said somebody was trying to kill him.
“He was suspect of a lot of people,” Economy says, “people on his City Council, people on his local police department, people he had worked with [who were] convicted felons.”
Economy was shocked to see Lyvette at Crespo's funeral. She sat not 10 feet from the casket, stoically, until the end of the service, when a video was played of Crespo singing at a recent Miss Bell Gardens pageant. It was then that Lyvette broke down in tears.
She picked out the gravestone. It read: “Daniel Crespo. Beloved husband & father. Your songs will play forever in our hearts.” She also purchased the cemetery plot next to her husband's, for herself.
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