Top LA Businessman Nabbed for Murder, Corruption, Harboring Illegal Aliens
by Jim Kouri, CPP
The owner of the Los Angeles-based Numero Uno supermarket chain, his brother and two associates alleged to be part of a racketeering conspiracy have been taken into custody during a two-day operation that also resulted in the seizure of approximately $1.25 million in cash and more than 60 vehicles.
The supermarket owner, George Torres, was arrested at his Arcadia residence without incident. Mr. Torres, 50, was in United States District Court on Wednesday afternoon, making his first court appearance, at which time he was ordered held without bond pending another court appearance on June 20.
George Torres is accused in an indictment with providing an associate with a handgun and instructing him to murder a gang member who had killed a security guard at a Numero Uno store, among other criminal acts.
The 59-count indictment outlines a wide swath of criminal conduct allegedly committed by a criminal enterprise headed by George Torres. Those offenses include murder, solicitation of murder, bribery of a public official, harboring illegal aliens and tax violations.
According to the indictment, Torres and his brother ordered various murders and assaults to maintain control of the criminal enterprise. The murders allegedly ordered by Torres include a fatal drive-by shooting of a Primera Flats Street gang member in May 1993, which was ordered in retaliation for the death of a Numero Uno security guard.
The indictment also alleges that George Torres ordered the February 1994 murder of a gang member who demanded a "tax" from a Numero Uno Market and the murder of a former employee who allegedly stole $500,000 from a Numero Uno Market.
The indictment, which accuses a total of eight defendants of violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), was unsealed today and announced by George S. Cardona, Acting United States Attorney in Los Angeles; J. Stephen Tidwell, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles; Timothy J. Landrum, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Los Angeles; and Debra D. King, Special Agent in Charge of IRS-Criminal Investigation.
According to the indictment, George Torres currently owns 11 markets in the greater Los Angeles area and, to expand his business, allegedly exercised strict control of his organization and associates, intimidated and murdered potential witnesses against the enterprise, and used the markets to facilitate fraud and tax violations.
George Torres and his brother were arrested yesterday morning. Six additional members or associates of the Torres enterprise named in the indictment have been arrested or have agreed to surrender themselves tomorrow morning to federal authorities. The defendants charged in the indictment are:
* George Torres, who is charged with racketeering, conspiring to violate RICO, violent crime in aid of racketeering (VICAR), "honest services" mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens;
* Manuel Torres-Ramos, 53, of Arcadia, George Torres's brother, who was also arrested and charged with racketeering, conspiring to violate RICO and conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens;
* Steven Torres, 26, of Downey, who is George Torres' son and is charged with VICAR, has agreed to surrender;
* George Luk, 58, of Beverly Hills, a member of the Los Angeles Convention and Exhibition Center Authority Commission, who is charged in the RICO conspiracy and five counts of "honest services" mail and wire fraud, was arrested;
* Steve Carmona, 39, of Pico Rivera, a former commissioner with the Los Angeles Central Area Planning Commission, who is charged in the RICO conspiracy and five counts of "honest services" mail and wire fraud as well as one count of loan fraud, was arrested;
* Gloria Mejia, 57, of Montebello, who is charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, has agreed to surrender;
* Mario Solano Garcia, 52, of Los Angeles, who is charged in the RICO conspiracy, has agreed to surrender; and
*Carlos Monterroso, 51, of South Gate, who is charged in the RICO conspiracy, has also agreed to surrender.
In addition to the arrests, law enforcement authorities executed five search warrants at residences, Numero Uno markets and warehouses.
The indictment alleges that Torres was using his business, Numero Uno Markets, as a corrupt organization, and that he used the assistance of public officials—including former Los Angeles Area Planning Commissioner Carmona and current Los Angeles Convention and Exhibition Center Authority Commissioner Luk - to obtain valuable licenses and permits for Torres' businesses in return for monetary kickbacks and lavish gifts.
"The greed of these criminals has infiltrated our communities and businesses, bringing violence to our streets," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Landrum. "Those arrested in this investigation are part of an organization that has brought crime, violence and drugs to our street corners in order to bolster their personal wealth. These recent enforcement events show that the continued cooperative efforts between federal, state, and local law enforcement result in criminals at every level of society being brought to justice."
"Corruption, fueled by drug trafficking and murder, penetrates all levels of our society, as exemplified by Torres' alleged use of public officials in attaining wealth for himself and in furtherance of his criminal enterprise," said J. Stephen Tidwell, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.
"This case was unique in that multiple agencies penetrated separate facets of the Torres criminal enterprise, including narcotics and corruption, and worked together to gather evidence against Mr. Torres and his associates. The FBI and our partners are clearly committed to exposing public officials who offer privilege to those engaging in criminal activity in exchange for personal gain, at the expense of deserving honest citizens," Tidwell said.
The indictment specifically charges the Torres brothers with racketeering activity, a crime that, as charged, carries a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison. he Torres brothers, along with Carmona, Luk, Garcia and Monterrosso, are also charged with conspiring to violate RICO.
George Torres and Steve Torres are also charged in one VICAR count, and Steve Torres is charged in another VICAR count. Both VICAR counts carry a maximum statutory sentence of three years in prison
George Torres, Carmona and Luk are each named in six counts of honest services mail and wire fraud, a charge that carries a maximum possible penalty of 20 years in prison.
The Torres brothers, along with Mejia, are also charged with conspiring to harbor illegal aliens, a count that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for each alien in respect to whom the violation was committed.
Carmona is charged with loan fraud, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in federal prison.
George Torres and Mejia are also charged with conspiring to defraud the government by failing to file payroll taxes. And George Torres is named in 55 counts of failing to pay federal income tax on behalf of employees.
Debra D. King, Special Agent in Charge of IRS-Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles, stated: "George Torres' indictment on RICO related charges including violent crime and conspiracy, as well as immigration-related counts, mail and wire fraud, employment tax charges, and criminal forfeiture, is indicative of the success of a multi-agency task force approach in the investigation of criminal organizations. The indictment and arrest of Torres, as well as the substantial criminal forfeiture count included in the indictment, bring to a close a long-term investigation into his criminal activity and serve to disrupt and dismantle Torres' criminal organization."
The indictment also contains forfeiture allegations. The United States Marshals Service is in the process of seizing the Numero Uno supermarkets and other assets owned by Torres.
California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, Special Agent in Charge William Telish stated: "The arrests of George Torres and his associates have resulted in a severe disruption to a multi-faceted criminal organization responsible for murder, racketeering, extortion and other felonious crimes. The eradication of this criminal conspiracy will improve the quality of life for numerous Californians."
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.