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George Torres, a feisty entrepreneur who built a multimillion-dollar grocery store chain by catering to some of Los Angeles' poorest communities, 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 the verdict, showed no emotion when it was read. Friends and family, however, burst into tears and embraced one another outside the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson.

The verdict represents a major victory for federal authorities who charged Torres last year with running a criminal enterprise, or so-called shadow organization, to ensure the success of his Numero Uno market chain.

Prosecutors' portrayal of Torres differed starkly from the 52-year-old's public persona as a successful businessman and influential political donor.

According to prosecutors, Torres hired undocumented workers at his stores, bribed a Los Angeles city planning commissioner and sought to have people killed.

In one such instance, jurors concluded that Torres arranged for the murder of a local gang member who tried to shake him down for protection money. Jose "Shorty" Maldonado was fatally shot and his pregnant girlfriend was wounded as they walked across the street from Torres' main market on Jefferson Boulevard in 1994.

A former associate of Torres' testified that he was present when Torres solicited the killing, and another witness admitted driving the car from which the shots were fired.

The jury acquitted Torres of arranging the killing of his onetime confidant Ignacio "Nacho" Meza, who mysteriously disappeared in 1998 after supposedly stealing half a million dollars from Torres. Another slaying charge Torres faced was dropped by the judge during the trial.



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