Ralphs Grocery Co. said Monday that it entered guilty pleas to five federal criminal counts stemming from its effort to illegally hire locked out union workers during the 2003-2004 labor dispute that created turmoil in Los Angeles' supermarket sector.


The Compton-based supermarket chain had been indicted on 53 criminal counts involving conspiracy, identity fraud and falsifying and concealing information to the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration.


The plea agreement calls for Ralphs, owned by Cincinnati-based grocery giant Kroger, to pay $70 million in fines and restitution and be placed on three years probation. It also is cooperating with government investigators in the case, which is now expected to focus on managers at the company who might have been engaged in the wrongdoing.


The deal, approved by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, will funnel $50 million to a restitution fund to Ralphs clerks and unions, with the company paying a $20 million fine. Fewer than 300 of the temporary workers were locked-out employees, according to the company.

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