A member of the Mexican Mafia and so-called “shotcaller” for the Canta Ranas street gang based in Santa Fe Springs and Whittier has been convicted of murder and racketeering charges, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Jose Loza was found guilty of a dozen felony charges including the murder of a rival member of the Mexican Mafia and several racketeering charges stemming from his involvement in Canta Ranas, a violent criminal enterprise involved in murders, drug dealing and money laundering, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Loza, 40, is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 16 and faces a mandatory sentence of life in federal prison as a result of the murder conviction alone, according to prosecutors.
On April 19, 2016, he murdered Dominic Gonzales who was “marked for death” after being seen as “encroaching upon the territories of other Mexican Mafia members,” the release states. Gonzales was shot six times at a restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley community of Basset, suffering gunshot wounds to the head and chest.
The shooting left his bodyguard severely injured and wounded an innocent bystander at the restaurant, who suffered six gunshot wounds to the abdomen, back, buttocks and legs.
An accomplice in the murder, 25-year-old Leonardo Antolin of Whittier, pleaded guilty in July to felony charges including conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering. As part of a plea deal, he has agreed to receive between 33 years and 40 years in federal prison and will be sentenced on Sept. 23.
A high-ranking member of Canta Ranas, Loza gave orders to another senior member of the Mexican Mafia and fellow long-time member of Canta Ranas, David Gavaldon, according to federal authorities.
Gavaldon maintained control over the Canta Ranas and several other gangs in the Whittier-Santa Fe Springs area as well as in Riverside and Stockton, receiving compensation through drug trafficking and other organized crime. He is currently serving life without the possibility of parole at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California.
The convictions against Loza are the latest developments in a federal racketeering case known as Operation Frog Legs, which is being led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Forty convictions have been made in the case so far.
Loza, members of the Mexican Mafia and other high-ranking associates of the prison gang have testified about the gang’s existence, its criminal activity and centers of power both inside and outside prison walls — something federal prosecutors say has never happened before.
Law enforcement officials have seized 51 firearms and executed several narcotics busts as part of the three-year investigation, including the seizure of nearly one pound of meth when a search warrant was served after Gonzales’ murder.
A federal grand jury indictment outlining charges against 51 Canta Ranas members and associates listed Loza as the lead defendant.
In addition to murder, Loza has been convicted 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 meth, one count of possession with intent to distribute meth, 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.