By T.A. Hendrickson
A Huntington Park man was sentenced on Monday to 21 years in federal prison for 21 armed robberies or attempted armed robberies of Trader Joe’s stores throughout Southern California, including the Eagle Rock location on Sept. 9, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said on Monday.
Gregory Johnson, 44, faced seven years to life in prison for his crimes, in which he used a semi-automatic handgun to terrorize store employees and customers, according to prosecutors.
During the robbery at the Eagle Rock location, the robber threatened multiple employees with the handgun, demanded money from the register and then fled the store with cash, according to an internal Crime Alert provided to The Eastsider shortly after the robbery.
“The violent, terroristic nature of [Johnson’s] criminal conduct cannot be overstated,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “[Johnson] repeated 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.”
Johnson pleaded guilty in May 2021 to one count of interference with commerce by robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. He admitted to the armed robberies and attempted armed robberies, which took place at 18 locations between Aug. 28 and Dec. 4, 2020.
Johnson’s sentence also took into account what prosecutors called his “serious and violent criminal history,” including a conviction for a prior armed robbery of a Trader Joe’s in 2000 that resulted in a 12-year sentence. Johnson was on probation in several other cases when he went on the Trader Joe’s armed robbery spree in 2020.
Johnson’s son, Gregory Eric Johnson, 20, of South Los Angeles, was sentenced in December 2021 to two years in federal prison for participating in his father’s crime spree at the Trader Joe’s stores in Chatsworth and Chino Hills in Dec. 2020. Some news reports have said that the the son was the getaway driver in those robberies.
Father and son were arrested after the Dec. 4 robbery in Chino Hills, when a witness gave law enforcement a description of the getaway car and its license plate, according to court documents. After stopping the vehicle, law enforcement recovered Johnson’s gun and other items from the vehicle.