A letter received by Pepsi Co. in May offered a lot more from Coca-Cola than a smile. A whacky plot formulated by a tacky trio of culprits involved the sale of recipes for some Coca-Cola products and details of future promotions ($15,000) as well as a sample of a new beverage that has yet to be introduced ($75,000).
Federal prosecutors say they have a videotape of Joya Williams, 41, of Norcross, Ga., a secretary at Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., sneaking classified materials from the facility in her handbag.
Along with Williams, a federal grand jury has also indicted Ibrahim Dimson, 30, of Bronx, N.Y. and Edmund Duhaney, 43, of Decatur, Ga., on charges of conspiring to steal and sell Coca-Cola Co. trade secrets, according to the Department of Justice.
“There was one former employee who was involved. Three individuals have been indicted on charges of conspiracy, and at this juncture, the U.S. Attorney’s office is going through the seized items,” says Coke spokeswoman Crystal Walker, who declined further comment, specifically on the former Coke employee.
Williams’s actions, however, are not how she and her two cola conspirators got caught.
A man calling himself Dirk sent Pepsi a letter in May offering the soda secrets. When officials at Pepsi got the letter, they immediately called Coke, who then called the FBI.
“We felt we did what any responsible company would have done,” Pepsi spokesman Dave DeCecco tells Food Quality. “Competition can be fierce, but it also should be fair. The right thing to do was to turn this over to Coke. No details were provided and it was just it offer…we immediately handed it over to Coke. Then, it was out of our hands in being handled by the FBI.”
In mid-June, an undercover agent arranged a meeting with Dirk, who is actually Dimson, at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
Dimson allegedly handed over some documents and the beverage sample, and the undercover agent handed over a down payment of $30,000 in cash that, according to reports, was stuffed in a Girl Scout cookie box.
The items were authenticated and the agent met with Dimson again in early July to buy more secrets for $1.5 million, according to reports. That’s when he, Williams and Duhaney were busted.
The indictment charges them each with one count of conspiracy to steal trade secrets, with conviction carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to the Department of Justice.
At press time, Dimson and Duhaney were being held without bail, while Williams was released on $25,000 bond. According to reports, Williams’ parents and attorney deny any wrongdoing, saying “she was merely taking some work home,” and she put a bottle of the new product sample in her purse because “she thought she might be thirsty.”
On that June day the undercover FBI agent met up with Dimson, a.k.a. Dirk, a bank account was opened under the names of Duhaney and Dimson that used Duhaney’s Decatur address, the FBI indicates.
Says Pepsi’s DeCecco of the plot that could have proved disastrous for its competitor: “It’s unusual. We can’t ever recall that happening here.”