CityBeat this week brings out-of-work classical music critic Alan Rich back into print, at the expense of freelance critic Donna Perlmutter, who wrote for CityBeat for five years (and was the chief music/dance critic for the Herald Examiner, a regular Calendar contributor for the L.A. Times and a writer for, among others, the New York Times, Hollywood Reporter, Opera News and Dance Magazine.) Also, the new issue turns over most of its pages to a long piece by former LA Weekly writer Jeffrey Anderson on the legal troubles and political ties of George Torres-Ramos, who controls the Numero Uno market chain and has been a law enforcement target for a long time. A Times story in 2002 linked Torres and real estate partner Horacio Vignali to suspected drug deals and political influence. From Anderson:
The United States of America v. George Torres-Ramos is scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on March 10.
The indictment includes a bewildering number of names and charges – robberies, extortions, bribes, frauds – and the government’s assertion that George Torres is friends with murderers and drug runners. Former employees and associates will testify that Torres is a brutal man, even a killer, who sought to protect a criminal enterprise that was both profitable and fearsome.
But will the government be able to prove it?
“I’ve heard the stories, listened to hours of wiretapped conversations and read more reports than I can count,” says the man who will prosecute the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Searight, chief of the office’s narcotics division. “But I have never met a person who can put George Torres in a room with large amounts of drugs or drug money.”
So Searight turned to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to charge Torres with criminal acts going back some 22 years. According to a transcript of a recent hearing before a skeptical U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson, the result is a list of disparate charges built loosely around a theory Searight has no intention of proving: that Torres financed drug deals or laundered the proceeds of those drug deals through his supermarkets.
Torres will mount a formidable defense. Though his attorneys have refused City Beat’s numerous requests for interviews, it’s clear from court documents they’ll argue that the case against their client is a hodgepodge of unsubstantiated allegations, cobbled together by overzealous investigators obsessed with Torres. They say the stocky 51-year-old grocer is a hardworking father of seven with a rags-to-riches biography that began with a fruit truck and ended up with the Numero Uno grocery store chain, vast swaths of real estate on the south and eastside of L.A., dozens of houses and a Santa Ynez ranch.
I hear the story has some history, starting at the Baltimore City Paper (where Anderson was recently laid off) and being offered to LA Weekly and discussed at Los Angeles Magazine before finding a home at CityBeat.