LOS ANGELES – A Northeast Los Angeles gang member who was one of the top figures in a conspiracy that united three rival gangs under the authority of a Mexican Mafia member pleaded guilty today to federal charges and admitted being an active narcotics trafficker who worked to further the goals of the criminal enterprise.
Jonathan Zepeda, 28, a resident of Elysian Valley and a longtime member of the Frogtown gang, admitted in court today that he distributed methamphetamine and collected “taxes” from other narcotics dealers who were allowed to sell drugs in areas controlled by the coalition of three gangs.
Jonathan Zepeda pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine, carrying a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.
As a result of today's guilty pleas, Jonathan Zepeda will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison – and a potential sentence of life without parole – when he is sentenced by United States District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez on March 5.
Jonathan Zepeda's brother – Santos Zepeda, a senior member of the Frogtown gang who helped manage the street gang coalition – pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to violate RICO and conspiring to traffic methamphetamine.
The Zepedas were among 22 defendants named in a 2015 federal racketeering indictment that outlined how Mexican Mafia member Arnold Gonzales ordered the unification of three street gangs that were traditional rivals. The “peace treaty” imposed by Gonzales in 2010 brought together the Frogtown, Toonerville and Rascals gangs, which worked together to control the narcotics trade and other illegal activities in an area that ran along the Los Angeles River from Elysian Park nearly to Burbank.
Because he was incarcerated in Pelican Bay State Prison after being convicted of murder, Gonzales appointed another Frogtown gang member, Jorge Grey, to be his emissary on the streets, according to the RICO indictment. Santos Zepeda served as Grey's top lieutenant, provided narcotics to the racketeering enterprise, and coordinated the collection of “taxes” imposed on street-level drug dealers.
After Gonzales took control of the three gangs, he exercised his authority through Grey and criminal associates that included Santos Zepeda, according to the indictment. The organization generated revenue through extortion, specifically the imposition of taxes on the gangs and others who distributed narcotics in the territory controlled by the criminal enterprise. Members of the racketeering conspiracy allegedly implemented Gonzales' orders, imposed discipline on those who attempted to violate the orders or contest the power of the enterprise, and collected firearms that were used to enforce their authority. When he pleaded guilty today, Jonathan Zepeda admitted possessing a number of firearms, including a machine gun.
The RICO indictment details numerous transactions involving narcotics and firearms, and also contains charges related to two shootings allegedly committed against individuals who defied the rules imposed by Gonzales and his associates.
The indictment targeting the Arnold Gonzales Organization is the result of Operation “Gig ‘em,” an investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Violent Crime Impact Team; the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Correctional Safety, Special Service Unit; the Glendale Police Department; and the Los Angeles Police Department.
Out of the 22 defendants named in the indictment, 13 have pleaded guilty. The remaining nine defendants, including Grey, are scheduled to go on trial on March 6.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Carol Alexis Chen and Alexander B. Schwab of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Component(s): USAO – California, Central
Contact: Thom Mrozek Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer United States Attorney's Office Central District of California (Los Angeles) 213-894-6947
Press Release Number: 17-214 Updated December 4, 2017
Central District of California DOJ / 17-214 / December 4, 2017