An Alexandria man was sentenced in U.S. District Court here yesterday to six months in jail and fined $10,000 for his role in what the government said was a scheme to lure customers to his meat stores with low prices and then persuade them to buy higher priced goods.
Richard M. Cerv, 38, had pleaded guilty last February to two fraud counts and a charge that he violated an order from the Department of Agriculture to stop such improper "bait and switch" practices. In addition to the jail term and fine, Judge Oliver Gasch ordered Cerv to perform 300 hours of community service following his prison term.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Spivack, in court records, said that Cerv earned "exorbitant profits" from the bait-and-switch scheme in three stores he once operated in Washington, Alexandria and Ellicott City, Md. Sales invoices from December 1977 through March 1978 showed gross sales totaled more than $500,000, the court records said.
Cerv, a former Nebraska farmer who has been in the meat business for 15 years, has a net worth of more than $1 million and owns three late model cars, court records said.
"The only reason we reiterate (Cerv's) opulence is to underscore the outrageous sums of money (Cerv) has underservedly received over the years by cheating the public," Spivack wrote in sentencing memorandum submitted to Judge Gasch.
The government alleged that Cerv advertised cut-rate meat prices in order to bring customers to his store, and then persuaded them to buy more expensive meat. The "bait" meat ordered by Cerv for his stores was "the fattiest, ugliest meat available for purchase," Spivack said in the memorandum. Once a customer saw that meat, the government said, they were ready to buy a more expensive product.
For example, Spivack said in court records, from December 1977 to March 1978, Bait meat was advertised at 55 to 63 cents a pound, but few customers bought that meat. Instead, the average sale price per pound of meat was $2.17 during that period, the memorandum said.
The government's sentencing memorandum also noted that prior to his February guilty plea, Cerv had, over the past 10 years, told the Department of Agriculture and officials in Nevada and Pennsylvania that he would stop the bait-and-switch tactics.
"Cerv is a very substantial part, if not one of the leading members, of an industry that is geared to ripping the customer off," Spivack told the court during a hearing yesterday.
"The only way that industry will give the consumer a break . . . is if that industry believes that crime doesn't pay," Spivack told Gasch. The prosecutor noted, however, that in most cases "no one has gotten more than a slap on the wrist."
Cerv, in an emotional plea for leniency, told Judge Gasch, "Sometimes greed got to me . . . I wanted nice things . . . I'm sorry . . . I really am, your honor . . . that's all I can tell you."
Earlier, Cerv's attorney told Gasch that Cerv is now completely out of the meat business. Cerv lives at 9319 Craig Ave., Alexandria.
According to a grand jury indictment returned last October, the bait and switch meat markets operated under such names as Beeflant, Dick's Butcher Shop and Shenandoah Valley Meat Co. Advertisements placed in the comics and television sections of local newspapers offered low-cost meat and easy credit plans, the government said.
A store manager who pleaded guilty earlier to one violation in connection with the case was placed on probation.
Gasch sentenced Cerv yesterday without comment.