Federal jury finds former secretary guilty in theft of Coca-Cola secrets

Friday, February 2nd 2007, 11:58 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ A federal jury convicted a former Coca-Cola secretary Friday of conspiring to steal trade secrets from the world's largest beverage maker in an effort to sell them to rival Pepsi.

Joya Williams faces up to 10 years in prison. No sentencing date was immediately set.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for 11 1/2 hours over three days. On Thursday, jurors told U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester they were ``hung'' and could not decide. Forrester told the jury to try again Friday.

Williams showed no visible reaction when the verdict was announced. She remains free on bond, pending sentencing.

Williams was fired as a secretary to Coca-Cola's global brand director at the company's Atlanta headquarters after the allegations came to light.

The government says Williams stole confidential documents and samples of products that hadn't been launched from The Coca-Cola Co. and gave them to Ibrahim Dimson and Edmund Duhaney as part of a conspiracy to sell the items to Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc. for at least $1.5 million.

Dimson and Duhaney have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Duhaney testified previously that Williams spearheaded the scheme. Dimson did not testify.

The government said Williams was deeply in debt, unhappy in her job and seeking a big payday, so she embarked on the scheme to steal trade secrets.

Defense lawyer Janice Singer urged jurors to use their common sense, and she argued that prosecutors did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Singer suggested that Dimson and Duhaney stole the documents and product samples from Williams without her knowledge and conspired to sell them to Pepsi behind her back. Williams testified earlier this week she left a key under her doormat for one of the co-defendants, perhaps explaining how they could have gotten into her home.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak said during his closing argument Wednesday that the key under the mat claim was one of many lies told by Williams.

During two days on the stand, Williams testified that she didn't steal anything from Coke, but rather took documents and product samples home to protect herself in case her boss questioned whether she was doing her job.

She also claimed that $4,000 in cash she deposited into her bank account in June 2006, just days after Dimson was given $30,000 in cash from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for Coke materials, came from a friend, not from Dimson.

But the friend, Clifton Carroll, testified Tuesday that Williams was lying; he said the most money he ever loaned her was $400, and that was after her July 5 arrest.

Williams' credibility was an issue for the jury to weigh during its deliberations.

After the verdict was announced, Singer said her client had been ``prepared for the worst. She was ready for whatever the jury did.''

``She's holding her own,'' Singer added. ``She seems pretty strong right now.''

Pak, the prosecutor, said, ``We're happy with the verdict. It was the right verdict based on the evidence in the case.''

He said it's too early to tell what sentence the government will recommend. He noted that under federal guidelines, the fact that Williams testified and denied involvement could weigh against her at sentencing.