Three former Ralphs executives were acquitted Monday of fraud and conspiracy in a scheme to rehire locked-out workers using fake Social Security numbers during the bitter 2003-04 Southern California supermarket strike.
The not-guilty verdicts by a federal jury in Los Angeles contrasted with guilty pleas in the case by Ralphs itself and two other former managers.
Acquitted Monday were Patrick McGowan, a former Ralphs regional vice president, and Scott Drew and Karen Montoya, who were zone managers at the supermarket company.
"We're obviously disappointed by the jury's verdicts, but we respect them," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Beong-Soo Kim.
Defense lawyers said their clients felt vindicated.
"I have no idea why Patrick McGowan was scapegoated -- it didn't make any sense to me and it didn't make any sense to a jury," said Evan A. Jenness, who represented McGowan. "He's been living in the shadow of this for half a decade and I think he's looking forward to putting this behind him."
James W. Spertus, Montoya's lawyer, said the three defendants in fact "worked extremely hard to prevent" locked-out workers from being rehired.
Union leaders said they continued to believe Ralphs executives used underhanded tactics during the strike to force the workers into painful contract concessions.
"The members really would have liked to have seen a conviction," said Greg Conger, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324 in Buena Park. "But remember, Ralphs pleaded guilty, so there's no question that there was guilt and culpability."
A spokesman for Ralphs declined to comment.
When the chain pleaded guilty in 2006, it paid $20 million in fines and $50 million into a fund to reimburse workers and the union.
The three trial defendants were indicted in September. Two others named in the indictment, former zone managers Randall Kruska and Charles Vance, each previously pleaded guilty to a single count and are awaiting sentencing, Kim said.
The supermarket strike and lockout lasted from October 2003 to February 2004 and involved Ralphs, a division of Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., and rival chains Vons and Albertsons.