When a federal judge threw out the most serious convictions of George Torres last week, it raised a question about the sale of his supermarket chain.

Torres, who was convicted of solicitation of murderer and racketeering in April, ran the Numero Uno chain of grocery stores he founded until his arrest in June 2007. The question is whether he could sue because he was forced to sell the chain under duress.

On April 20, Torres was convicted of 55 felony counts and appeared set to spend the rest of his life in prison. He sold the Numero Uno chain just 12 days later for an undisclosed sum. The buyer was a partnership of Nogales Investors LLC, a private equity firm in Los Angeles, and Breco Holdings Inc., a Houston investment firm.

In the courtroom, prosecutors portrayed Torres as a cold-blooded businessman who used his markets in Latino neighborhoods as part of a criminal enterprise. The charges included tax evasion, money laundering, bribery of public officials, fraud and solicitation for murder.

Last week, prosecutors revealed tape recordings and other information that undermined the case against Torres. In response, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed Torres' murder solicitation and racketeering convictions and released him on $1 million bail.

Steve Madison, Torres' attorney, said his client had been considering a sale before his arrest but then had to complete the process in less-than-ideal circumstances.

"Obviously, it's not optimal to fight an unjust indictment while selling a successful business that took him 30 years to build," said Madison, an attorney at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges. "But he got through it all and the sale was completed."

Moreover, the attorney said that the new owners have taken possession of the stores and the transaction won't be reversed.

But the question remains whether Torres can receive monetary damages given how his chain was sold from a position of weakness. Experts said winning such damages is tough.

"If the conviction was thrown out because of prosecutorial shortcomings which could rise to the level of misconduct, his due process rights were violated," said Olu K. Orange, a civil rights lawyer and faculty member at USC College of Arts & Letters. "Based on the assumption that the sale cannot be undone, I think he would have a possible action for economic damages."

However, Terree Bowers, a former U.S. attorney and now partner at the firm Howrey LLP in Los Angeles, said Torres would have to prove the government case wasn't merely wrong but vexacious, frivolous or in bad faith.

"So long as there are viable charges that the jury found him guilty of, it's highly unlikely he would prevail in any collateral action for compensation," Bowers said.

Torres remains convicted of tax and bribery charges. His lawyers plan to fight those convictions with claims they were tainted by the bogus racketeering cases.

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