LOS ANGELES – A Mexican Mafia member and “shotcaller” of the Santa Fe Springs- and Whitter-based Canta Ranas street gang has been found guilty by a federal jury of multiple crimes resulting from his control of a wide-ranging racketeering criminal enterprise, including the murder of a rival Mexican Mafia member at a San Gabriel Valley restaurant.
Jose Loza, 40, the lead defendant in a 2016 federal grand jury indictment charging 51 Canta Ranas members and associates, was convicted Thursday afternoon of 12 felonies. Canta Ranas is a multi-generational criminal enterprise engaged in murder, attempted murder, assault, extortion, money laundering, and drug distribution.
Specifically, the jury found Loza guilty of one count of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, four counts of engaging in violent crimes in aid of racketeering (VICAR), one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, three counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence, one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and one count of money laundering conspiracy.
Prosecutors have secured more than 40 convictions so far in this matter, which is the result of Operation Frog Legs, a three-year investigation by the Southern California Drug Task Force, as part of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative.
The Task Force members that participated in Operation Frog Legs were U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Drug Enforcement Administration, Whittier Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, IRS Criminal Investigation, and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Office of Correctional Safety.
During the course Operation Frog Legs, law enforcement seized 51 firearms and made several narcotics seizures, including nearly one pound of methamphetamine seized during the execution of search warrants after Loza murdered the other Mexican Mafia member.
According to the evidence presented at Loza’s month-long trial, Loza implemented the orders of David Gavaldon, an imprisoned senior Mexican Mafia member who was himself a long-time member of the Canta Ranas street gang and who was not charged in this case as he is serving a life-without-parole sentence in Pelican Bay State Prison. Gavaldon exerted control over Canta Ranas and other gangs in Whittier, Santa Fe Springs, Riverside, and Stockton, and he received compensation in the form of “rent” or “taxes” generated by drug trafficking and other offenses committed in gang territory, according to trial evidence.
In addition to implementing Gavaldon’s orders, Loza murdered Dominic Gonzales, a fellow Mexican Mafia member who was marked for death by the prison gang after he was perceived as encroaching upon the territories of other Mexican Mafia members. During the April 19, 2016 incident at a restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley community of Basset, Gonzales was shot six times, including to the head and chest, his bodyguard was severely wounded, and an innocent restaurant patron was wounded, receiving six gunshots to the abdomen, back, buttocks, and legs.
In what’s believed to be a first-time occurrence, Loza as well as other Mexican Mafia members and high-level associates of the prison gang, including a death row inmate from San Quentin, took the unusual step of testifying about the gang’s existence, activities, and power both inside and outside prison systems.
U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips has scheduled a December 16 sentencing hearing, at which time Loza will face a mandatory sentence of life in federal prison stemming from his conviction for the murder alone.
Loza’s accomplice in the 2016 murder, Leonardo Antolin, 25, of Whittier, pleaded guilty to five felonies in this case and has agreed to a prison sentence of 33 years to 40 years in federal prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 23.
This matter is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney, Central District of California’s International Narcotics, Money Laundering and Racketeering Section.