A federal judge sentenced a 44-year-old Huntington Park man to 21 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to robbing several Trader Joe’s stores between Aug. 28 and December 4, 2020 in Southern California, including the Chino Hills location at 13911 Peyton Drive in The Shoppes at Chino Hills.
Gregory Johnson pleaded guilty in May to one count of interference with commerce by robbery and one county of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, according to the U.S. District Attorney Office Central District of California in Los Angeles.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips issued the 21-year sentence, although the suspect faced a maximum of 40 years in federal prison, spokesperson Thom Mrozek said.
Mr. Johnson’s son, Gregory Eric Johnson, 20, of South Los Angeles, pleaded guilty March 15 to two counts of interference with commerce to commit robbery at the Chino Hills and Chatsworth stores in December 2020.
Prosecutors said the younger Johnson served as his father’s getaway driver in those two crimes.
He was sentenced in December to two years in federal prison.
The pair was arrested after the Dec. 4 robbery of the Chino Hills location.
Prosecutors said one of the men entered the Trader Joe’s store at 9:30 a.m., walked up to an employee who was working behind a manager’s station and demanded money while holding a handgun.
About $3,800 was taken, a criminal complaint stated. A witness gave law enforcement a description of the getaway car and its license plate.
After the men fled in their car, a security guard followed the men and informed authorities.
The Johnsons were arrested near the 60 and 10 Freeway junction, located a few miles east of Moreno Valley.
A gun and other items were recovered from the vehicle by law enforcement. Prosecutors believe a total of $57,000 was taken during the robberies in Eagle Rock, Sherman Oaks, Chatsworth, Glendale, Pasadena, Monrovia, San Dimas, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes, Cerritos, Brea, Agoura Hills, Simi Valley, Santa Ana, Tustin, Irvine, Corona and Chino Hills, prosecutors said.
“During many of the robberies, Mr. Johnson allegedly brandished a handgun,” Mr. Mrosek said. “On two occasions, Mr. Johnson allegedly robbed stores in Rancho Palos Verdes and Brea, and returned weeks later to rob them again.”
Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum that Mr. Johnson’s crimes “have a lasting impact of the emotional trauma on the victims.”
“The violent, terroristic nature of Mr. Johnson’s criminal conduct cannot be overstated,” the memorandum stated. “Mr. Johnson repeatedly brandished and used a firearm to control and instill fear in innocent civilians. These crimes terrorized the businesses’ employees and customers.”
Prosecutors added that Mr. Johnson has a “serious and violent criminal history,” including serving 12 years in prison for a 2000 robbery conviction of a Trader Joe’s store.
“Mr. Johnson was on probation in several other cases when he committed the Trader Joe’s armed robbery spree,” Mr. Mrozek said.
The robberies were investigated by the FBI, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Mr. Mrosek said.