Some bad news for the Vista Home Boys

The phone call from jail that alarmed police

Deputies found dolls in Sorto's apartment with the same gang tattoos that Sorto had on his body
  • Deputies found dolls in Sorto's apartment with the same gang tattoos that Sorto had on his body
  • Evidence Photo

San Diego County law enforcement invaded the apartment of known gangster Jose Antonio Sorto, Jr. in April of 2018. They believed that the man, better known as Stomps, controlled most of the meth flowing into the city of Vista, so they were not surprised to find meth and marijuana. But it was a surprise when they found dolls in the bedroom of 34-year-old Stomps. The dolls were decorated with tattoos that matched those on the Vista Home Boys gangster.

Doll found in Sorto's apartment had VHS across chest and DIEGO across belly, same as Sorto

Doll found in Sorto's apartment had VHS across chest and DIEGO across belly, same as Sorto

Evidence Photo

The dolls probably belonged to a young female who spent time with Stomps. This girl was not yet 18 when she became Stomps’ companion. Eventually, her jail-bait status bothered Stomps enough that he arranged a confrontation with the woman who provided the girl. His verbal attack on the female pimp was recorded on Stomps’ cell phone; the audio-and-video call was found after cops confiscated Stomps’ phone upon his arrest.

Stomps told the woman,“You fucked up, you fucked up bad. Cause you tried to get one, you’re pimping a fucking minor. You’ve been doing it for years. Already you admitted it.”

Doll in Sorto's apartment has same tattoos across chest and belly

Doll in Sorto's apartment has same tattoos across chest and belly

Evidence Photo

And, “I promise you, you’re gonna end up one of these days with your head chopped off, because of the shit you do right here. You’re gonna, you’re gonna fucking mess with one, somebody, one of these fools that, they’re just too, more connected than I am. And they’re not even gonna fucking wanna talk. They’re just gonna take you out.”

In case the female pimp misunderstood, Stomps made it clear: “I’m not the one to fucking play with. You don’t understand. I’m a Sureño. I’m a VH locota. I’m active like a motherfucker. And you go and do that.”

If Stomps was worried that his underage girlfriend was part of some kind of setup, it did not bother him enough to give her up. In fact, when another gangster showed too much interest in Stomps’ girl, a calamitous chain of events started.

Evidence photos of the tattoos on Sorto's chest and belly, Vista Home Boy, San Diego County

Evidence photos of the tattoos on Sorto's chest and belly, Vista Home Boy, San Diego County

Evidence Photo

Froggy was useful

He delivered “product” and brought back cash. Both Froggy and Stomps used meth themselves, in Stomps’ apartment, which conveniently overlooked downtown Vista. Froggy often slept on the couch.

In the year 2018, Stomps was 34 years old. Gang experts in San Diego County claimed he was a shot-caller in Vista; he was even considered an older gangster. One gang expert said that an active Sureño like Stomps usually will not last into his 30s or 40s; that they usually get sent to prison, or are killed off by rivals.

The Vista Home Boys are unusual because they choose to claim all of Vista, the whole town. Most gangs claim a defined area, bordered by certain streets, and then cross-town rivals invade and violence breaks out.

There are about 200 Vista Home Boys who are documented and maybe another 100 who are not documented, according to the local experts who keep detailed files.

Gang tattoo across back of doll in his apartment matches one on Sorto.

Gang tattoo across back of doll in his apartment matches one on Sorto.

Evidence Photo

Gangster resume

Stomps was born in 1984. When he was young and brash, he bragged to deputies that he was “jumped in” to the local gang when he was 12. Gang experts now say that homies will not admit to being a member of a gang anymore to cops, even in front of other homies. This might be due to their awareness that confirmed gang status means additional years in prison, if found guilty at trial.

In 2001, when he was 17 years old, Stomps was in a car with other Vista Home Boys when they were stopped by deputies. Sorto was accused of participating in a robbery or “grand theft against another person.” Because of his age, Sorto went through the juvenile court system. The robbery accusation was declared “true,” which is the juvenile equivalent of declaring the suspect “guilty.”

In 2002, a deputy contacted Stomps for a probation violation. The young gangster had VHB tattooed across his chest.

Photo of tattoo VISTERO across back of Vista Home Boy Jose Sorto

Photo of tattoo VISTERO across back of Vista Home Boy Jose Sorto

Evidence Photo

In 2003, Stomps pleaded guilty to armed robbery, a serious felony and a strike. Stomps went to prison. In California, the Mexican Mafia is considered a prison gang, and Stomps would have been exposed to “La Eme” while he was in State prison. Experts say that crimes committed by gangsters on the street benefit the Mexican Mafia because profits are filtered back up the chain to those in prison. One way this can be done is through females who put “money on the books” of inmates. And the money from criminal enterprise can be made available to families of those in prison.

VISTA tattoo across doll's head in his apartment matches the same tattoo on Sorto

VISTA tattoo across doll's head in his apartment matches the same tattoo on Sorto

Evidence Photo

Stomps was released on parole in 2007. That year, he was listed in a “gang injunction” created against the Vista Home Boys and other gangsters in San Diego County. In 2007, a deputy found Stomps in a vehicle with an underage female. It was noted that Sorto had meth and a glass pipe and brass knuckles and a blue bandana. Blue bandanas are considered a flag for gangsters and the Mexican Mafia in California, and the gang injunction expressly forbids named persons being found with a blue bandana. So 23-year-old Stomps was sent back to prison for parole violation. Police noted at that time that there was a new tattoo across the top of Stomps’ head: VISTA in the huge letters.

VISTA tattoo across top of Sorto's head, when he was arrested. Vista Home Boy.

VISTA tattoo across top of Sorto's head, when he was arrested. Vista Home Boy.

Evidence Photo

In 2009, Stomps got out of prison and was back home in Vista. Gang specialists noticed that he had a new tattoo across his upper back: VISTERO.

In 2012, deputies in Vista arrested a gangster moll named Jessica. In her cell phone, they found photos of Stomps and other Vista Home Boys. These photos were date stamped 2011.

After his stint in prison, Stomps found employment at Nemo’s Bakery. But soon he declared that he injured his back working there. He reportedly suffered a herniated disc and underwent back surgery. A claim was filed on his behalf in 2012. The legal action was against Horizon Food Group. In April 2014, Stomps received a worker’s compensation settlement of $70,421. His bad back reportedly caused him to live on a regimen of ten different medications, to which he added meth.

A homie who already worked at Jiffy Lube said he was able to get Stomps hired there, and he worked there as late as 2017. He liked the steady paychecks, and his homie co-worker said customers liked Stomps very much.

Law enforcement reviewed a Facebook page in July 2017 and saw a photo featuring Stomps in the center of a group of 20 men. Most were throwing the VHB hand sign. Their sign is a V, but fingers are displayed sideways so it does not appear as a victory or peace sign. In the photo, Stomps is wearing all black and has his arm around another homie. The occasion for the photo was paying respect to a homie who was shot by police in 2017.

In the spring of 2018, deputies arrested Stomps and accused him of multiple felonies. The crimes were alleged to benefit the Vista Home Boys gang.

Froggy gets checked

Before he was arrested, early in 2018, Stomps decided he needed to “check” his sometime roommate Froggy. There was need for enforcement. Froggy was breaking rules.

The morning of March 21, 2018, Stomps and his girlfriend and Froggy all used meth there in the apartment. Then Froggy was sent out as a runner. He was gone for some hours, maybe a little too long. This gave Stomps time to think. He had been suspicious for awhile. Was Froggy skimming? Was Froggy stealing meth? Or money? Or both? It did seem like Froggy was coming up short with money.

That afternoon Froggy returned to the apartment, and Stomps confronted him. There in the living room, he accused Froggy of stealing. Froggy denied it. Stomps was not calm about it. He was angry, and he chose that moment to confront Froggy about another suspicion he had: that Froggy was putting moves on his girl.

Stomps’ girl had told him that Froggy had put his hands on her and made unwanted advances. Froggy strongly denied it all.

While Stomps was in this ferocious mood, he told Froggy, “We are going to the car now.” Froggy saw Stomps put a knife into his pocket before they left the apartment. And then, when they were in Stomps’ car, he told Froggy that he fucked up. Stomps announced, “I could stab you, or you can steal a surveillance system.”

Froggy chose to steal a surveillance system.

However, Stomps did tell Froggy that they would all sit down together later, and there would be a meeting. It would be him and his girl and Froggy. They would get together and discuss what really happened in that car that day. So Froggy was aware that after he successfully collected a new surveillance system, Stomps had more in mind. Later.

Steal or die

Stomps drove his car to the nearest Fry’s store. He parked at a far edge of the parking lot. Froggy went into the store, but he came back empty-handed. He told Stomps there were too many people around and he just couldn’t do it.

Stomps next drove to a Best Buy store. He parked next door, at a Jack In The Box. While he went inside the restaurant, Froggy went into the Best Buy. There are surveillance photos of Stomps at the counter, and then eating at a red plastic table while he kept lookout towards the store. It took a while, but again Froggy returned. Again with no redemption in hand.

Stomps severely warned Froggy, he had one last chance. The curved knife was brought out from the center console of his car, and set on top of the console for emphasis. Then Stomps drove to a Walmart store. He parked in a far corner of the parking lot. Stomps told Froggy to leave his cell phone in the car before he got out. And Stomps warned one last time, “You better get that shit, or I’ll stab you.” It was about 9 pm by this time.

Store employees later told investigators that fearful Froggy almost looked as if he was crying. They found him trying to hide in a dark corner of the electronics section. Froggy kept looking around and said that he was taking too long and that someone would come into the store after him. Eventually Froggy told a manager, “I have to steal something here or the guy outside is going to kill me.”

Employees called 911. Deputies took Froggy away in handcuffs. But Stomps did not wait around long enough to see that. The older gangster had already left.

Benedict “Froggy” Arnold

Stomps was able to scroll through Froggy’s phone and look at his contacts. He used Froggy’s phone, pretending to be Froggy, to reach out to certain persons. And Stomps was able to get on Froggy’s social media.

Stomps put out on Froggy’s snapchat: “Whoever knows Froggy and knows where he's at turn him in,” and “If your hiding him there will be a consequence to pay,” and “we're already very close to finding your location, Froggy and you know how we find information …. all of you have had the warning.”

And Stomps got onto his Facebook page. He put an illustration up with the caption, “The life of the traitor Benedict Arnold.”

San Diego County gang specialists could see this social media activity.

One night at Sonic Drive-in

It was on a Wednesday, March 21, 2018, when Stomps drove Froggy around to three different stores, failing to get a new surveillance system. Froggy never returned to Stomps’ apartment. He went missing that night.

It was two days later, on Friday March 23, when Stomps arranged a meeting. Stomps used Froggy’s phone to setup a rendezvous with a female he found in the phone. This woman believed she was meeting Froggy.

Stomps had a nice apartment on a main street running through downtown Vista. He had a good view from his balcony, overlooking South Santa Fe Drive. The view included a Sonic drive-in restaurant just down the street. That Wednesday, it was easy for Stomps to arrange for the parking lot of the Sonic to be overrun with pee wees — these are the youngest of gangster wannabes, anxious to prove themselves to an OG. The teenaged toughs congregated in the parking lot while Stomps made final arrangements through Snapchat with the unsuspecting female.

When the woman drove into the parking lot at Sonic, she believed she was meeting Froggy and together they would go to the beach. That is not what happened.

She did think it was odd when Froggy directed her to parking in a certain numbered parking spot. It got stranger after the woman parked in the designated spot. Then she got a snapchat message from Froggy telling her that a different person was going to contact her there. At that moment a blue car pulled up and parked directly behind her. A large man with a shaved head got out of his car and walked to her driver’s side window. It was Stomps.

He demanded to know where Froggy was. The woman truthfully said she did not know where Froggy was, and she asked the stranger to please move his car. Stomps ignored her and continued to demand Froggy’s whereabouts. And he badmouthed Froggy. The woman tried to keep calm while she asked the large man to move his car. This went on for about ten minutes.

Finally Stomps warned the woman against trying to hide Froggy, then he got into his own car and drove away. The fearful woman was allowed to leave.

Stomps in cuffs

Twelve days after the encounter at the Sonic drive-in, on April 4, 2018, deputies arrested Stomps and served a search warrant on his apartment.

When deputies arrested Stomps, they were able to take the key to apartment 406 out of his pocket. And two cell phones.

Inside the one-bedroom apartment, deputies saw posters on the walls. Some of the posters memorialized Vista Home Boy gang members who had died.

Deputies searched Stomps’ pale blue Honda CRV.

They found a knife in the center console.

Phone calls from jail

Jose Antonio Sorto Jr. — Stomps — was 34 years old at the time of his arrest. Jail records described him as 5 feet 7 inches tall and 240 pounds. He was held in lieu of $1,045,000 bail.

While awaiting trial, Stomps made phone calls from jail. He was anxious to find Froggy, he wanted to get messages to him. At his trial a year later, some of Stomps’ recorded calls were played for a jury.

In a call dated April 10, inmate Stomps had to explain his directions to one man: “She’s the one who’s best friends with Froggy, fool... if you can get in contact with her, if she can get in contact with that fool, tell him to drop the fucking charges.” Stomps mistakenly seemed to believe that Froggy had the ability to make the charges against him disappear.

Stomps was able to exert some influence, apparently, even while in jail. He did put out directions, and was able to receive information too.

In May, four weeks after Stomps was arrested, one female was able to make contact with Froggy, she was able to pass along a message. They communicated through Snapchat.

The woman sent: “What happen u went mia…” Missing in action. And “Text me when u get a chance.”

Froggy responded, he denied that he said anything: “Honestly I haven’t spoken to anyone…”

During their back-and-forth, the woman warned Froggy: “Just be safe man and dont fuck with no body everybody is grimmy….”

A year later, a prosecutor claimed that Stomps was able to cause persons to move around in the jail system, this so he could get a loyal homie into a cell next to somebody who needed a message. On one of the recorded phone calls, Stomps says, “Tell that mother fucker to take no fucking deals... that he needs to quit with what, with what, uh, he was thinking, and saying aloud, you know what I mean?”

In other calls, Stomps sent out messages to “clean it up” and “knock it off.” The prosecutor told the jury that this actually means “stop talking to investigators.”

In one phone conversation, a female said to Stomps, “Hey did I tell you that [Froggy] called me?”

Stomps replied, “Oh yeah? What’d he say?”

Female, “He’s like, ‘Hey, let Stomps know that I’m in, um, right there in Chula Vista.’”

But Stomps was already aware of this, because he replied in a bored tone, “Yeah, he’s in South Bay 4.”

This conversation was alarming to law enforcement, who listened to jail calls. It meant that Stomps the shot-caller was already able to arrange a homie into a jail cell directly next to a person who needed quieting. Law enforcement immediately directed jailers to move that inmate to another location. It was remarkable that Stomps was aware of exactly who was in what cell, down to the exact module number.

In another phone call, Stomps was heard giving instructions to a certain homie that he should demand “kosher” food, because that would cause him to be transferred from one jail facility to the Vista detention facility.

Gangland: Vista

During the jury trial, gang experts testified. These witnesses spoke about old and new trends in San Diego County gangs.

One expert claimed that drive-by shootings are not ordered anymore. He said that drive-by shootings have somehow lost “respect” and that a homie is now expected to execute his target on foot.

A Sureño was defined as a soldier for the Mexican Mafia prison gang. The word Sureño translates from Spanish to Southerner. In gangland, it means a gangster from south of Bakersfield, California.

One attorney asked a gang expert, “Does anybody age out of the gang?” The expert replied that current laws in California direct law enforcement to delete information after five years, if there is no new information collected on that person. He said that means proven gangsters are purged out of the law enforcement database, and those individuals are not followed in police files anymore. By law. The witness added, “That does not mean they are no longer actual gang members.”

One expert who specialized in Vista Home Boys said they are connected with the numbers 22 8 2. This set of numbers is seen in graffiti and tattoos. The reason is the letter V is the 22nd letter of the alphabet, and the letter H is the 8th, and the letter B is the 2nd.

Gang behavior in the city of Vista is not slowing down at all. “Murder, stabbings, and armed robbery have skyrocketed in the last two years,” one expert said. Townsite Drive and the two parks in that area are particularly overrun with gangsters, according to the expert. “We actually built a separate office there, our gang enforcement office, right there to combat all the gang crime on that street.”

The expert bemoaned, “I got kids at Rancho Buena Vista high school that are leaving that school.” The gangsters are attacking unaffiliated high school students now, he said. “They attack skate boarders, not the typical gang violence victim. They attack the kid walking to school with a backpack with his friend and his skateboard.” Each gangster is seeking power and influence. “The more fear he strikes into someone the more powerful the whole gang becomes. The level of fear allows them to operate as a gang, they can victimize people without consequence.”

The expert said, “It is an everyday struggle. We see people who are shot in the head. They do not want to report crimes, they don’t want to say who did it.” If this expert sees VHB graffiti spray-painted on a house, he will approach the homeowner, but “They will not tell me anything. They will not give me their video surveillance. It is a constant, daily struggle for me.”

“The gang knows that witnesses will not show up to court. This allows them to continue on with their behavior. You will see five or six pee wees waiting around at the bus station for persons to get off the bus; they know there is no consequence for their behavior.”

Innocent family members will not call 911 when a fight or stabbing happens. “The stabbed person or shot person is dropped off at hospital and the person who brought them there does not stay. They don’t want to get involved at all,” the expert said.

Verdict

During trial, Stomps’s father testified on his son’s behalf. This was the only time that the stone-faced Stomps showed any emotion. He went red in the face and wiped his face with a tissue. Then he composed himself and his grim visage returned.

Stomps’s father once said he did not know how his son paid his rent or phone bills or for groceries, according to a witness. Prosecutor Laurie Hauf asserted that her investigators could not find any evidence that Stomps had ever paid any rent or any utilities or any of his bills at all. The prosecutor told the jury, “There is something fishy going on.”

The jury deliberated carefully, almost three days, before declaring Stomps guilty of six felonies. These included: making a criminal threat against Froggy, attempted extortion against Froggy and threatening with knife, false imprisonment of the female at Sonic, possession of meth for sale, and attempt to dissuade witness Froggy. The jury did declare the gang allegations to be true, which is expected to add prison time.

Jose Antonio Sorto Jr. — Stomps — is now 35 years old. He is next expected in court on June 10 at 1:30 in the afternoon, to be sentenced by the Judge William Wood, who heard trial, in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse in Vista.

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