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 today 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 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.
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 said.
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 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."
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