A northeast Los Angeles gang member who was one of the ringleaders of a conspiracy that united three rival gangs under the authority of a Mexican Mafia member pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges and admitted being an active narcotics trafficker who worked to further the goals of the criminal enterprise.
Jonathan Zepeda, 28, a longtime Frogtown gang member who lives in the Elysian Valley, admitted 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, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Zepeda pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — known as RICO — conspiracy to traffic methamphetamine, carrying a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.
He faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years in federal prison — and a potential penalty of life without parole — when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez on March 5.
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, according to prosecutors.
The RICO indictment outlines numerous transactions involving narcotics and firearms, and also contains charges related to two shootings prosecutors say were 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 U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Violent Crime Impact Team; the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Correctional Safety, Special Service Unit; and the Glendale and Los Angeles police departments.
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.