Atlanta -- Prosecutors say a former Coca-Cola
secretary took confidential documents from the beverage giant and samples of
products that had not been launched with the aim of selling them to rival Pepsi.
Her lawyer says she was duped by two ex-cons and did not commit a crime.
A jury will be asked to determine who is telling the truth. The process of
selecting that jury starts Tuesday in Joya Williams' trial.
Williams, who was fired as an administrative assistant to The Coca-Cola Co.'s
global brand director after the alleged scheme came to light last summer, faces
up to 10 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy.
Williams, Edmund Duhaney and Ibrahim Dimson were indicted on the single
federal charge, accused of stealing new product samples and confidential
documents from Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and trying to sell them to Purchase, New
York-based PepsiCo Inc.
The alleged plans were foiled after Pepsi warned Coca-Cola in May and an
undercover FBI investigation was launched.
Dimson and Duhaney have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Duhaney
is expected to testify against Williams, though it is unclear if Dimson will.
The two men served prison terms at the same time at a federal penitentiary in
Montgomery, Alabama. Duhaney served nearly 5 years of a 7-year sentence on a
cocaine charge before being released in 2005; Dimson served less than 1 year of
a 2-year sentence on a bank fraud charge before his release in 2004.
Williams' lawyer, Janice Singer, said she plans to make the two men's
credibility a key issue in her client's defense. Williams does not have a
criminal record, another attorney who previously represented her has said.
"The case is about two felons who manipulated and used my client without her
knowledge," Singer said. "She did not take any documents she believed to be
trade secrets to share with these people or to harm Coke and benefit Pepsi, nor
did she intentionally knowingly give them any documents."
Singer said that Williams was allowed to take home documents from her job.
She suggested that Dimson and Duhaney stole the materials from her.
"We're not denying that she possessed them, but we are denying that she
conspired with the other defendants to do anything nefarious or wrong," Singer
However, prosecutors say they have a strong case. That includes video
surveillance showing Williams at her desk at Coke headquarters going through
multiple files looking for documents and stuffing them into bags, according to
court records. She also was observed holding a liquid container with a white
label, which resembled the description of a new product sample, before placing
it into her personal bag, prosecutors say.
The prosecution says a box containing two undisclosed product samples and
other confidential company papers were found in Duhaney's home during a search
on July 5, the day all three were arrested.
Coke has declined to give details about the samples, including which products
they are for. The indictment only refers to a mysterious "Project N......."
Duhaney's lawyer, Don Samuel, said his client played a small role in the
scheme. "He pleaded guilty to being a member of a conspiracy so you can assume
he will testify consistent to that plea," Samuel said.
The episode prompted Coke to re-evaluate its safeguards for protecting trade
secrets, and other corporations have asked whether they should do the same. The
products allegedly stolen weren't locked up in a bank vault like the recipe for
Coca-Cola's flagship soda brand.
Coke's general counsel sent a memo to employees afterward urging them to come
forward if they see someone doing something inappropriate.
A Coca-Cola spokeswoman, Crystal Walker, declined to comment on the trial.
Prosecutors are seeking some secrecy during the trial. They want to bar
jurors from disclosing to others confidential materials they are presented, seal
any exhibits containing trade secrets that are entered into evidence, and limit
defense lawyer Singer's ability to introduce confidential information into
evidence. Rulings by U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester were pending. Singer
has said granting the requests would violate her client's right to a public
On Tuesday, potential jurors will be given a jury questionnaire. The panel
will be chosen Wednesday. Opening statements have been delayed until January 22,
Singer said. The trial, including jury selection, is expected to last up to two
The questionnaire gauges whether potential jurors own Coca-Cola stock, work
for the company or have already made up their mind about the facts of the case
based on pretrial publicity, Singer said.
"We're not striking people based on whether they drink Coke," Singer said
with a laugh. "If that was the case, I'd also have to recuse