According to Deputy District Attorney Mark Dennings, the prosecution and defense arrived at a tentative agreement for a 15-year prison term, and Pantoja is expected to accept that offer at his April 16 court hearing.
“Supposedly, he is going to plead at the next court date,” Dennings said. “It’s a good conclusion for the case. Putting away a very bad person for quite a while.”
Pantoja, 36, of Tracy, was arrested during a multi-agency sweep in June that targeted local members of the Norteño gang. Dubbed Operation Gateway, the sweep netted about 30 documented gang members.
Officials said the Tracy operation was a spinoff of another police sweep across the Central Valley a day earlier that resulted in the arrest of 101 documented members of the Nuestra Familia gang.
Pantoja remains in custody at San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp on a $5.8 million bail. He faces a variety of charges, including street terrorism, receiving stolen property and selling narcotics.
“He’s highly ranked in the Norteños,” Dennings said. “It’s resolution, or we’ll set for a trial. I’m not waiting anymore.”
The local ramifications of Pantoja getting sentenced to state prison are unknown, and local law enforcement said it could have negative or positive results.
“It could have two effects,” Detective Ricardo Hernandez said. “Damaging to them (the gang) with no leadership, but it could have the effect that they could almost run wild.”
He said gang members under Pantoja’s leadership were known to at least follow the group’s internal rules, if not the law.
“It’s a good thing to be able to put away a high-profile leader that he was,” Hernandez said. “A guy that they almost idolized — positive for us. Good for us that he’s gone.”
Russell Humphrey, Pantoja’s attorney, was unavailable for comment.
Pantoja’s next court hearing will begin at 8:30 a.m. April 16 in Department 35 of the San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton.