Gang leader pleads guilty to four felony charges
by TP staff
Apr 16, 2012 | 9518 views | 12 12 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Pantoja’s mug shot among those arrested during last year’s Operation Gateway gang sweep.  Press file photo
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STOCKTON — A man described by law enforcement as the leader of the Tracy Norteño street gang pleaded guilty to four criminal counts in San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton on Monday, April 16.

John Pantoja entered the plea as part of an agreement with the district attorney’s office. According to the terms, Pantoja, 36, will serve 14 years, 8 months in state prison on charges ranging from street terrorism to possession of a firearm by a gang member.

According to Deputy District Attorney Mark Dennings, all four charges were considered to be strike offenses, and if found guilty of another felony, Pantoja could face 25 years to life in prison based on the state’s three-strike law.

Judge Franklin Stephenson accepted the plea as Pantoja, dressed in red county jail-issued clothing, sat at the defense table in the Department 35 courtroom.

Dennings said Pantoja will likely serve 85 to 100 percent of his prison time.

“He’s highly ranked in the Norteños,” Dennings said in a recent telephone interview. “We’re putting away a very bad person for quite a while.”

Following the sentencing, family and friends of Pantoja said outside the courtroom that law enforcement was wrong in perceiving him to be the leader of the Tracy gang.

“He’s not perfect, but he’s not this gang member they made him out to be,” said Aurora Pantoja, who identified herself as the defendant’s mother. “I think what they (police) did was wrong. He’s not this big gang member.”

Defense Attorney Russell Humphrey said during a telephone interview later that afternoon that his client was disappointed with the time offered, but that Pantoja thought it was better than facing a jury and a possible 40-year sentence if convicted.

Humphrey said it can be very difficult to get a fair jury trial when there are allegations of gang activity, weapons and drugs.

Pantoja was arrested in June 2011 during a multi-agency law enforcement sweep targeting local Norteño gang members called Operation Gateway because of the centralization of three interstates in the target area. Department of Justice agents served 28 state arrest warrants and 24 state search warrants in the Tracy area, and the investigation resulted in 30 arrests.

Operation Gateway was a spin-off of Operation Crimson Tide the day before the Tracy sting. Crimson Tide resulted in the arrest of 101 people reportedly linked to the Nuestra Familia gang.

Officials said both investigations were a collaborative effort led by the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and assisted by the Tracy Police Department, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations Special Services Unit and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force.

Overall, the operation involved more than 200 law enforcement officers and 28 locations.

Comments
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Leo71
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April 22, 2012
Breezy1923,SummerDawn789, and Justbecause11 that is so true. The bad thing about it all those years for being a gangster is ridiculous, talk about a racial profiling as they go to prison because there going to ask who are you claiming. Pitbull,Rottweiler, or Doberman Pincher or other. You pick other most likely your going to get killed. Now with that said how is prison going to make this person change when they are all segregated. There's not an educational system to teach for conforming. Maybe they should go to church with some of you who goes to church to repent. Going to church are for sinners? With the cutbacks from prison is another problem. The Rapist,the Molesters don't get much time compare to the gangster that he's been profiled. Family will be treated like a convict if they go visit. The birthdays and maybe family deaths he will miss.

zepol1
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April 20, 2012
Ha Ha nonies! Enjoy your long stay in prison. You got what you deserved. You had time to change your life after you second stay in prison, but you didn't. You were a punk anyways
Justbecause11
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April 20, 2012
Wow im in disbelieve in some of these comments posted on here, clearly some of your are not aware of what he has done and or not done! How many others involved with the "gang" were sentenced? Let alone sentenced as long as John? Clearly he is taken time for actions others have done, in which they should be greatful for! Point #1.. Second who are any of you to judge saying quotes about God as if that makes you a great a true Christian, well I will say extra prayers for you. Dont throw stones when you live in a glass house. And our God is not a hateful God!On the note Sandra Cantu killer thats just disgusting and child molestor, John was none of these being he is a father, brother, son, uncle, the knowing of him he was always the one to make sure the kids and children were loved, protected and financially taken care of! Has he made mistakes and done some bad things, sure he has, but not as what has been described, the press is the press and is here to inform it doesnt make it accurate. The public would be amazed to know how many peoplr are "gang members" or "homies" im almost positive someone in the comments below have relatives, friends, involved and you may not even know it!!
SummerDawn789
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April 20, 2012
Breezy1923 Thank you for posting this comment. I completely agree with you for several reasons; the public as a whole does not know who this man is on a personal level but only through the eyes of the media, so yes we can all have our opinions, but to compare him to the devil or to Sandra Cantu's monster is ridiculous. It is common that the public relies on media coverage to provide details to us about these stories, but not all details are public. Think about it this way: were any of you personnaly hurt in some way by this man? If not, and probably not, who are you to make assumptions that he deserves to be in prison for 40 years? Even if you have a rhetorical answer for that, which I am certain you will, just as breezy said, there are people within our community who are grieving for this man. He is a son, perhaps a father or brother, an uncle, and a friend to people in this community. They don't deserve such hateful comparisons as those made here. I am no one to say keep your opinions to yourself, because I won't, but keep in mind, mistakes are made and consequences are paid to everyone at some point. In the long run, who are we to judge? I have to say I am very glad Mr. Pontoja did not choose to take this to trial because it would be people like you that would not listen to another word after the term "gang member" was brought up. At that point he would have been guilty before proven innocent. What a shame.
LuckyInTracyNot
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April 18, 2012
@ breezy1923 If this helps your sadness exchange his stupid face with the others that he touched in his special gangstah way.

I am the punishment of God...If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.

Genghis Khan
breezy1923
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April 20, 2012
@ LuckyInTracyNot, God does not punish those that have done wrong, he shows them a two paths, in which that person decides which to lead..each person makes the decisions in their own lives to do what they want, Its like the old saying goes you can lead a horse to water but you cant make him drink, John did not force anything upon anything or anyone he did the damage to himself, and i sure that there were plenty of gang affiliates before his time, so y give a man 40 years for crimes that have been committed years before him. I do not condone the actions that this man has made, but realistically, just because a "street terrorist" is off the streets, does that mean that tracy is a safer place, i think not. There are more out there just like this individual..So okay lock him, up..but there aer 10, maybe 30 just like him; having him in there for that long of a time isnt gonna change a damn thing.
breezy1923
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April 20, 2012
@ LuckyInTracyNot, God does not punish those that have done wrong, he shows them a two paths, in which that person decides which to lead..each person makes the decisions in their own lives to do what they want, Its like the old saying goes you can lead a horse to water but you cant make him drink, John did not force anything upon anything or anyone he did the damage to himself, and i sure that there were plenty of gang affiliates before his time, so y give a man 40 years for crimes that have been committed years before him. I do not condone the actions that this man has made, but realistically, just because a "street terrorist" is off the streets, does that mean that tracy is a safer place, i think not. There are more out there just like this individual..So okay lock him, up..but there aer 10, maybe 30 just like him; having him in there for that long of a time isnt gonna change a damn thing.
backclover40
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April 17, 2012
I think I'd rather see him do 40years! But because Tracy doesn't want the burden of expense they would rather cut this devil a deal! They did the same thing with Sandra Cantu's killer. She should have had the death penalty!
breezy1923
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April 20, 2012
i agree they should have given Sandra Cantu's killer the death penalty, but 40 years for a gang member really, why not give him 10, and force him to move out of the county or state, that way he is out the city's harm, if that what the "cops" are so concerned about. Having a local gang member in there is ludacris, and the costs for him being in there as well as other people that have done things is coming out of each worker's checks..so basically you're paying for his living expenses, that food hes eating, the weights hes lifting are coming out of your pocket, So...instead of getting these people help, as far as the drug addicts, gang members, and minor crimes you as well as many other individuals are paying for it..so go ahead keep them in there..youre paying for their visit..they arent...but hey..hes locked up, and more than likely there will be more just like him, but you wanted this guy to have 40 years..awesome!
mommyofthree
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April 16, 2012
This is just sad. It's sad because someone like this idiot gets only 14 years but someone who cheats someone or someones company or the gov't out of money gets life in prison. Pathetic. I would much rather deal with someone who is cheating someone for their money then a "street terrorizer" and people being shot.
breezy1923
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April 17, 2012
I am truly saddened by this person's situation. In the bible it states "He who has never sinned,cast the first stone"..so for those that are judging him on his actions..should really look at the things differently, because in all reality none of us know the facts and situation at hand. We dont know if he was trying to straighten up his life. Just like us all he has a family, he is a possibly a father, an uncle, a brother or a son to someone in Tracy, and i wouldnt doubt that there are many that love and care for him..so as far as calling him a "street terrorizer, know your facts before you use such stereotypical words. As for comparing him the the Sandra Cantu killer, that was a devastating situation at all but to call "John Pantoya" a devil is completely wrong how can you compare a cold blood killer to a common city gang member, that just at the wrong place at the wrong time..like i said before you don't know his situation so unless you are that person or know the fact then can judge and compare him to a killer, a child molester, a robber or anything else that the cops had made him out to be.
breezy1923
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April 20, 2012
@ mommyofthree: Yes the court system is extremely, corrupt and wrong with some of their decisions, but do you know in fact if this man has shot someone, if he had ever robbed anyone..do you know his family backgrounds, no. I understand that you do not agree with the sentence that he had received but there are women and men that have killed children, molested women, and they have gotten away with a years in jail, or convicted of manslaughter, so when you speak of this man only getting 14 years, i dont think he should have recieved that much,let alone 40, im not sure if you, read a past incident of a 7 year old that was molested by a pastor, in Tracy, that man is currently serving 45 years to life. Now, something like that i believe is more deserving of punishment, not a local gang member..no he isnt a saint..yes he did wrongful things but there are more worst things happening then gang issues..and you being a "motherofthree" should agree to some point.


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