A former Cleveland boxer was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in federal prison for running a bank-like operation where he laundered money for drug traffickers and other criminals through real-estate purchases.
Raul Torres, 57, processed more than $1 million as an unlicensed money service, some of which was derived from drug trafficking and other crimes, between 2011 and 2018. An undercover federal task force agent caught Torres saying that he bought houses, fixed them and sold them for a profit, all to give criminal proceeds an air of legitimacy and hide where they came from.
Torres also exhibited fighting roosters in Youngstown on two occasions in 2018, and he and other participants attached knives or other sharp objects to the roosters’ legs. He also controlled homes on Denison Avenue and West 38th Street that were used to train roosters for fights.
He cooperated once the FBI approached him and pleaded guilty in July to nine charges, including money laundering, operating an unlicensed money transmitting service and animal fighting violations. He agreed to forfeit more than $1 million.
Torres, with his wife, children, pastor and other loved ones in the viewing gallery, apologized to his family. He built a reputable business as a property owner and landlord long before he became “loose with where he got his money and who he did business with,” his attorney Michael Goldberg said.
In addition to the 38-month sentence, Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent ordered Torres to pay a $5,000 fine. The judge also said he would recommend that Torres, whose attorney said he has an alcohol problem, participate in a federal prison program to address substance abuse that could reduce his sentence if he successfully completes it.
Torres, who lives in Fairview Park, will remain on supervised release for three years upon his release from prison. Nugent told Torres he must have a valid driver’s license and insurance if he wants to drive. Torres has drunken driving convictions, and the judge warned him that he could be back in federal court if he doesn’t abide by the condition.
Torres has worked to sell off many of his properties, many of which are on Cleveland’s West Side, in order to forfeit more than $1 million to the federal government, Goldberg said. He added that the properties his client sold included those touched by the drug proceeds, but others that were not, an assertion with which Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot Morrison disagreed. The prosecutor said that Torres built his business and then used it in an “insidious way.”
He previously agreed to forfeit about $60,500 seized from bank accounts.
Torres boxed in the 1980s and 1990s and was at one point a junior welterweight champion. He once owned a boxing gym on West 32nd Street in the city’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood and sold the building in October.
His plea agreement gave several examples of his discussions with people on how he would launder money, including quotes that authorities translated from Spanish.
Torres met with a person in March 2016 and offered to “clean your money” by using his bank account to buy then a house. Torres explained that the person might not resell the house for much more than the purchase price, “but you clean the money that you invested. It takes a couple months, but you clean all your money.” He later made the winning bid at a Cuyahoga County sheriff’s auction and bought the house in his name.
The same month, Torres spoke with another person about the breadth of his money laundering operation and explained that real estate investment and rentals were great ways to hide illicit money and make a profit.
Torres said his goal was to fix up properties and rent to lower-income people, but that people he met got him into trouble.
“I don’t think anybody in Cleveland was doing what I was doing,” he said.