|George Torres, a feisty entrepreneur who built a multimillion-dollargrocery store chain by catering to some of Los Angeles' poorestcommunities, was convicted of racketeering, solicitation of murder,bribery and other crimes Monday by a federal court jury.
Torres, who faces potential life imprisonment as a result of theverdict, showed no emotion when it was read. Friends and family,however, burst into tears and embraced one another outside thecourtroom of U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson.
The verdict represents a major victory forfederal authorities who charged Torres last year with running acriminal enterprise, or so-called shadow organization, to ensure thesuccess of his Numero Uno market chain.In one such instance, jurors concludedthat Torres arranged for the murder of a local gang member who tried toshake him down for protection money. Jose "Shorty" Maldonado wasfatally shot and his pregnant girlfriend was wounded as they walkedacross the street from Torres' main market on Jefferson Boulevard in1994.
Prosecutors' portrayal of Torres differed starkly from the52-year-old's public persona as a successful businessman andinfluential political donor.
According to prosecutors, Torres hired undocumented workers at hisstores, bribed a Los Angeles city planning commissioner and sought tohave people killed.
A former associate of Torres' testified that he was present when Torressolicited the killing, and another witness admitted driving the carfrom which the shots were fired.
The jury acquitted Torres of arranging the killing of his onetimeconfidant Ignacio "Nacho" Meza, who mysteriously disappeared in 1998after supposedly stealing half a million dollars from Torres. Anotherslaying charge Torres faced was dropped by the judge during the trial.