Woman Convicted of Selling Coke Secrets to Pepsi

MIAMI ~ A former Coca-Cola employee was sentenced this week to eight years in jail for trying to steal company secrets and sell them to arch-rival Pepsi Cola, in a case that had the trappings of a cloak-and-dagger spy caper.

Prosecutors said the sentence reflected the increasingly critical need to protect US companies’ intellectual property.

A US judge in Atlanta, Georgia, sentenced former Coca-Cola administrative assistant Joya Williams, 43, to eight years in prison on Wednesday, and coconspirator Ibrahim Dimson, 31, to five years. Another co-defendant, Edmund Duhaney, 43, is to be sentenced at a later date.

Williams and Dimson were each ordered to pay US$40,000 in restitution to the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola.

After the three were arrested in July, Duhaney and Dimson pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the case against Williams.

The jury found Williams guilty in February after hearing of secret documents being spirited away, a cash pay-off being made in a Girl Scout cookie box and a plot exposed by an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent.

Williams was accused of stashing confidential documents and product samples in her bags and walking out of Coca-Cola headquarters in downtown Atlanta in 2006. She then handed the products over to Duhaney and Dimson to sell to Pepsi.

In May 2006, Pepsi received a letter from Dimson claiming he was a “high-level” Coca-Cola employee and had confidential information about products that Pepsi should be interested in.

The information was about new Coke products, not the ultra-secret Coca-Cola formula, which is reportedly stored in the vault of a downtown Atlanta bank.

Pepsi contacted the FBI, which then set up a sting operation after Dimson faxed 14 pages of Coca-Cola documents marked “classified” to the undercover agent.

Dimson was paid $5,000 at first, then another $30,000 in the cookie box when he met the undercover FBI agent at the Atlanta airport.

Coca-Cola then set up secret surveillance cameras at Williams’ work station and videotaped her putting documents in her bag before she went home for the day.

“This case is an example of good corporate citizenship leading to a successful prosecution, and that unlawfully gaining a competitive advantage by stealing another’s trade secrets can lead straight to federal prison,” US Attorney David Nahmias said on Wednesday.

“As the market becomes more global, the need to protect intellectual property becomes even more vital to protecting American companies and our economic growth,” he said.

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