LOS ANGELES (CN) — A man who robbed 21 Trader Joe's grocery stores in Southern California over the course of 11 weeks was sentenced to 21 years in prison Monday.
Gregory Johnson, 44, pleaded guilty this past May to one federal count of interference with commerce by robbery and one count of brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors called Johnson's crime spree "violent and brazen," writing that in each robbery, Johnson "brandished a firearm and used it to terrify and control store employees in order to rob them of money."
"The violent, terroristic nature of defendant’s criminal conduct cannot be overstated," prosecutors wrote. "These crimes have a lasting impact of emotional trauma on the victims."
Johnson had 16 previous criminal convictions going back to 1995, including one for robbing a Trader Joe's in 2000 for which he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was still on probation in September 2020 when he entered another Trader Joe's in Agoura Hills armed with a semiautomatic handgun, took around $2,000 from the store's safe and left.
His next robberies followed that pattern. He threatened employees with a handgun, took a few thousand dollars in cash from the store's safe or register and left. All but five robberies took place within 30 minutes of closing for the night. He robbed two stores twice.
Johnson's son, Gregory Eric Johnson, drove a getaway car for his father in his last two robberies. The younger Johnson was sentenced last month to two years in prison.
The two were caught after a Trader Joe's security guard spotted the older Johnson leaving the store and gave police the license plate number of the getaway car. Police stopped the vehicle soon after and found the gun and a blue drawstring bag with $3,800 inside.
Authorities don't know why Johnson targeted Trader Joe's stores, and he had never worked for the grocery chain. A spokesperson for Trader Joe's — which was founded in Pasadena, California, and has over 500 stores nationwide — did not return a request for comment.
The public defender representing Johnson could not be reached for comment.