Two plead guilty in attempted theft of Coca Cola trade secrets

ATLANTA (AP) – The two men accused of plotting with a secretary at Coca-Cola Co. to steal trade secrets from the world’s biggest soft drink maker and trying to sell them to archrival PepsiCo Inc. each pleaded guilty Monday to one count of conspiracy.

Ibrahim Dimson and Edmund Duhaney both could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when they’re sentenced Jan. 29.

Former Coca-Cola secretary Joya Williams is still scheduled to stand trial starting the week of Nov. 13.

“She is absolutely not pleading,” Williams’ attorney, Janice Singer, said.

During the plea hearing in federal court, Duhaney told the judge that Williams, a longtime friend, contacted him first and wanted to “make things happen,” while Dimson testified that Duhaney then contacted him to try to broker a deal with Pepsi.

Duhaney entered his plea as part of a deal with prosecutors and will likely cooperate if the Williams case goes to trial, said assistant U.S. Attorney Bjay Pak. In the plea agreement, the government agrees to push for a lighter sentence in exchange for Duhaney’s assistance, though Pak pointed out that Duhaney could still get the maximum sentence.

Duhaney’s attorney, Don Samuel, called his client a “bit player who was very briefly involved as a go-between.”

Dimson’s attorney, Anna Blitz, did not comment on why her client decided to plead guilty.

Williams, Dimson and Duhaney were indicted July 11 on federal conspiracy charges. The three were accused of stealing new product samples and confidential documents from Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and trying to sell them to PepsiCo’s Pepsi unit, which is second in U.S. soft drink sales to Coca-Cola.

The alleged plans were foiled after Pepsi, based in Purchase, N.Y., warned Coca-Cola.

The prosecution says a box containing two undisclosed Coca-Cola product samples and other confidential company documents was found in Duhaney’s home during a search on July 5, the day all three were arrested and the same day a $1.5 million transaction was to occur. Documents were also found in Williams’ home.

Fourteen pages of Coke’s confidential “marketing playbook” were also found, Pak said.

Coke has declined to reveal which product or products are linked to the samples.

Williams, who has since been fired as an administrative assistant for Coke’s global brand director at its Atlanta headquarters, allegedly took the information from the company and gave it to Dimson and Duhaney.

Duhaney’s wife testified in July that Williams had been a friend of hers and her husband’s and even offered to help prepare a resume for him.

Williams does not have a criminal record. Dimson and Duhaney both served time in federal prison _ Dimson on a bank fraud charge, Duhaney on a cocaine charge.

Coke expressed relief at the news of the two guilty pleas.

“We’re thankful for the diligent efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in bringing this matter toward closure,” said Crystal Walker, a Coke spokeswoman.

Coca-Cola shares rose 48 cents to $47.23 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange after rising to a new 52-week high of $47.50 earlier in the session.