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Man who targeted L.A. and O.C. Trader Joe’s in string of robberies gets 21 years in prison

Shopping carts are returned to a collection area outside a Trader Joe's in Sherman Oaks.
A Huntington Park man was sentenced to 21 years in prison for a series of robberies targeting Trader Joe’s stores.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A man who robbed more than a dozen Trader Joe’s grocery stores in Southern California was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison Monday, authorities said.

Gregory Johnson, 44, of Huntington Park targeted Trader Joe’s stores in a string of robberies between Aug. 28 and Dec. 4, 2020, prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office said. He was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips to one year in prison for every armed robbery and attempted armed robbery he committed — 21 in all.

Johnson initially pleaded not guilty to the crimes in April 2021 after a federal grand jury indictment. The following month, he changed his plea to guilty to one count of interference with commerce by robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

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During the three-month span, Johnson robbed stores in Eagle Rock, Sherman Oaks, Chatsworth, Glendale, Pasadena, Monrovia, San Dimas, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes, Cerritos, Brea, Santa Ana, Agoura Hills, Tustin and Irvine, prosecutors said. A few weeks after targeting stores in Rancho Palos Verdes and Brea, prosecutors said, Johnson returned and robbed the stores again.

Johnson stole about $55,000 from Trader Joe’s outposts in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, including $3,800 from a Chino Hills store, according to court documents. During Monday’s sentencing, Phillips ordered Johnson to pay nearly $101,000 in restitution for the money stolen from the grocery store chain during his robberies.

A federal grand jury has indicted a Huntington Park man in the robbing or attempt to rob several Trader Joe’s

Johnson also tried to rob stores in Simi Valley and Corona, federal prosecutors said. In one of those attempts, he brandished a gun at a Trader Joe’s employee and instructed the person to open a safe, but Johnson left when the employee did not comply.

A witness gave authorities a description of Johnson and his son, Gregory Eric Johnson, 20, of South Los Angeles, in December 2020 and a description of their vehicle and license plate, according to court records. Police found Johnson’s gun and other items inside the vehicle during a traffic stop.

Gregory Eric Johnson was sentenced last month to two years in federal prison for his role in the crimes after pleading guilty in March to interference with commerce by robbery. He was convicted of holding up Trader Joe’s stores in Chatsworth and Chino Hills.

The elder Johnson had served a 12-year prison sentence for armed robbery of a Trader Joe’s in 2000. He was on probation in several other cases when he robbed the grocery stores in 2020, prosecutors said.

“The violent, terroristic nature of [Johnson’s] criminal conduct cannot be overstated,” prosecutors wrote in a request for a sentence of 27 years in prison. Johnson “repeatedly brandished and used a firearm to control and instill fear in innocent civilians. These crimes terrorized the businesses’ employees and customers. These crimes have a lasting impact of emotional trauma on the victims.”

An attorney retained for Johnson declined to comment on the sentencing.

Trader Joe’s, which is headquartered in Monrovia, opened its first store in 1967 in Pasadena. The company did not immediately reply to requests for comment.


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