Goddammit — we might as well have splurged on Whole Foods.

An investigation by the L.A. City Attorney's Office, unveiled in May 2010, found that 14 different Ralphs stores throughout L.A. County had been overcharging for prepackaged meats, deli foods, etc. slapped with price tags supposedly based on how much they weighed.

Undercover detectives (the very softcore kind who slink around grocery stores with food scales) found that the weight of ice and packaging was often included in the cost-per-pound total, or that products were just marked up for no apparent reason.

Now, Ralphs is pleading…

… “no contest” (or, “guilty,” but not really wanting that kind of filth on their record) to all 62 misdemeanor charges.

Some examples from a May Los Angeles Times article on the investigation:

Many of the charges were for stores illegally charging for the weight of an item's packaging or for including the ice glaze on frozen products, such as fish, in the net weight. Many prepackaged items were also found to be under the labeled weight, officials said.

During one visit to a Granada Hills location, an inspector bought four packages of fried chicken labeled at a net weight of 30 ounces but found the actual weight of the chicken to be short by 3.5% per package.

At a store on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A., an inspector bought a self-service salad and found that the store failed to deduct the weight of the packaging when calculating the purchase price.

The horror! Still, Kendra Doyel, vice president for Ralphs marketing, told the Associated Press she “believes the charges involved isolated events, but [Ralphs] has redoubled its efforts to ensure accuracy.”

And, to further illustrate their strength of character, Ralphs released a statement saying company representatives “spent countless hours working with the city attorney's office to try to reach a settlement agreement that was acceptable to both our customers and their office.”

Mmkay. The grocery chain already has a slimy reputation for selling wares for more than their worth: It was fined $6,500 in 2008 and $10,400 in 2009 for similar dealings.

Deputy City Attorney Don Cocek, back in May:

“Ralphs is taking money out of their customers' pockets. It might just be 95 cents, but if you add that up over the number of stores they have times the number of times they sell that item times 365 days a days a year, this becomes a huge ripoff.”

And Doyel's comeback:

“Our industry faces these challenges every day. …There's absolutely no malicious intent in this situation whatsoever. It would be an oversight.”

It's on, suckers! A final sentencing date will be set today. May the best man win. And may it not be Ralph, if only for the sake of not wasting more city funds on costly undercover investigations concerning slightly overpriced chicken.

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