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Ex-secretary guilty in theft of Coca-Cola secrets

A federal jury convicted a former Coca-Cola secretary Friday of conspiring to steal trade secrets from the beverage giant in an effort to sell them to rival Pepsi. Joya Williams faces up to 10 years in prison.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Testifying in her own defense, a former Coca-Cola secretary repeatedly denied any involvement in a scheme to steal trade secrets from the beverage maker and sell them to Pepsi. That may have been Joya Williams’ undoing as she was convicted of conspiracy Friday.

Juror Rodney Brown said after the verdict that Williams’ credibility was something the panel considered in its deliberations.

“I think there were some issues about how she represented herself,” Brown said.

The federal jury rejected Williams’ claim that she was duped by two ex-cons and found her guilty.

Williams, 41, faces up to 10 years in prison. No sentencing date was immediately set.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for 11½ 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 said 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.

The conspiracy was foiled after Pepsi received a letter in May 2006 offering Coca-Cola trade secrets to the “highest bidder.” Pepsi warned Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and an undercover FBI investigation was launched. The letter writer was later identified as Dimson.

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

Prosectution: Seeking a big payday
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.

Singer also told jurors that Dimson and Duhaney are criminals and shouldn’t be believed. The two served prison terms at the same time at a federal penitentiary in Montgomery, Ala. Duhaney served nearly five years of a seven-year sentence on a cocaine charge before being released in 2005; Dimson served less than one year of a two-year sentence on a bank fraud charge before his release in 2004.

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

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.

'Prepared for the worst'
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.

Brown, the juror, said that when the jury broke Thursday after saying it was deadlocked, the members were split down the middle.

He said that in the final analysis, one piece of evidence was particularly important: the wiretapped phone calls between Dimson and Duhaney.

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias told reporters after the verdict that Williams “misused her unique access” to confidential Coca-Cola documents “for personal profit.”

The trial, including jury selection, lasted 2½ weeks.