Owners of Numero Uno Markets
JUN 18 -- (LOS ANGELES) – The owner of the Los Angeles-based Numero Uno supermarket chain, his brother, and two associates alleged to be part of a murderous 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 yesterday at his Arcadia residence without incident. George Torres, 50, is expected to join his brother in making initial court appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. 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.
A 59-count indictment outlines a wide swath of criminal conduct allegedly committed by the Torres Organization. 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 Torres 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 Landrum, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Los Angeles, and Debra King, Special Agent in Charge of IRS – Criminal Investigation in Los Angeles.
According to the indictment, George Torres owns 11 markets in the greater Los Angeles area and, to expand his business, he 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:
In addition to the arrest yesterday and today, 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 Timothy J. Landrum, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Los Angeles. “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. This investigation shows that the continued cooperative efforts between federal, state, and local law enforcement results in criminals at every level of society being brought to justice.”
The indictment specifically charges the Torres brothers with racketeering activity, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison. Torres brother, along with Carmona, Luk, Garcia and Monterrosso, are charged with conspiring to violate RICO.
“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. “The FBI, and our many partners, as demonstrated in this case, is committed to rooting out corrupt public officials who offer privilege to those engaging in criminal activity in exchange for personal gain, at the expense of deserving honest citizens.”
George Torres and Steve Torres are also charged in one VICAR count, and Steve Torres is charged in one 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 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 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.
William Telish, Special Agent in Charge of the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement 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.”
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.
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 serves to disrupt and dismantle Torres' criminal organization."
This case is the result of a multi-faceted Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation by HIDTA, the High-Intensity Drug Task Force Area. Multiple agencies have been involved in the investigation, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS-Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Baldwin Park Police Department, the Azusa Police Department, the Bell Police Department, the Bell Gardens Police Department, the United States Marshals Service and the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
CONTACT: Assistant United States Attorney Timothy Searight