During the long, bitter 2003-4 strike and lockout of Southern California supermarket workers, members of Local 770 of the United Food and Commercial Workers would tell stories on the picket line of how some of their erstwhile union colleagues were working back at Ralphs stores -- but under aliases and fake Social Security Numbers.
It turned out the stories were no mere rumors and, in 2005, the Bush Justice Department went after the Kroger Co., Ralphs' corporate parent, indicting it for illegally hiring workers during the lockout. In 2006 Ralphs pleaded guilty to five federal counts, including conspiracy and identity fraud. At that time the company agreed to pay $50 million in restitution to the union and $20 million to the government -- and fired a group of lower-level store managers and regional executives, who then faced federal charges themselves. A few pleaded guilty, but three -- Scott Drew, Karen Montoya and Patrick McGowan -- fought the charges.
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Today, in a stunning defeat for federal prosecutors, a Los Angeles jury acquitted Drew, Montoya and McGowan on all charges, despite the fact that their lawyers did not produce a single witness on their behalf. It was the second high-profile loss for local federal prosecutors in cases involving supermarkets. Earlier this month Judge Stephen Wilson threw out the racketeering convictions against Numero Uno supermarket founder and president George Torres, after jailhouse recordings emerged to contradict testimony of the convicted felons who were the government's chief witnesses against Torres.