Supermarket Tycoon Guilty of Soliciting Murder, Bribery, and Racketeering

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Los Angeles, CA—An entrepreneur who created a grocery store chain catering to Los Angeles’s poorest community has been convicted of bribery, racketeering, soliciting murder and other crimes. A federal court jury announced the verdict on Monday.

George Torres, an entrepreneur who built the multimillion-dollar grocery store chain called Numero Uno, could face life in prison. During the reading of his verdict, friends and family burst into tears, but Torres showed no emotion.

The racketeering offenses date back to 1985 and include a series of allegations over the course of 20 years, among them possession of stolen goods, conspiracy to commit murder, harboring of undocumented aliens and conspiracy to engage in extortion and bribery.

“Torres exploited his own workers through physical intimidation and hired drug dealers as muscle,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Searight.

In a classic rags-to-riches story, Torres started out with a street-corner food cart in downtown Los Angeles and later amassed a small empire of grocery stores and real estate holdings stretching from industrial properties in South L.A. to a horse farm in Santa Barbara County. Torres was charged with the federal felony counts last year for running a criminal enterprise in order to maintain the success of his market. Prosecutors alleged Torres of hiring undocumented workers, bribing a Los Angeles city planning commissioner, drug trafficking, and planning several deaths.

Prosecutors also reported the 52-year old had arranged for a local gang member to be murdered. This gang member had apparently tried to obtain protection money from Torres. Jose “Shorty” Maldonado was shot and killed as he and his girlfriend left Torres’ main market on Jefferson Boulevard in 2004. The girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time, was wounded.

A former acquaintance of Torres’ testified against him, claiming that he was there when Torres requested the killing. Another man testified to being the driver of the car from which the shots were fired.

Torres’ brother, Manuel, had previously been a co-defendant in the case. Last week, Judge Stephen V. Wilson declared him “not guilty,” ruling that prosecutors had not proved the case against him.

 

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