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Coca-Cola theft suspects want to know object of alleged plot

Coca-Cola theft suspects want to know object of alleged plot

For months since three people were charged with conspiring to steal trade secrets from The Coca-Cola Co. to sell them to rival PepsiCo Inc., their lawyers have been asking a fundamental question: What was the object of the alleged conspiracy?
According to the lawyers, the government won't say, nor will Coca-Cola. And one of the lawyers says the world's largest beverage maker won't allow her to question Coca-Cola employees directly about the case.
A defense objection was filed Thursday to a magistrate judge's recommendation that the defense request for the government to specify the trade secret at the heart of the case be denied.
"We're not being told exactly what it is that was a trade secret," said Janice Singer, the lawyer for former Coca-Cola administrative assistant Joya Williams. "We're being put in a position to guess."
Williams, Ibrahim Dimson and Edmund Duhaney were indicted July 11 on a federal conspiracy charge that accuses them of stealing new product samples and confidential documents from Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and trying to sell them to Purchase, New York-based Pepsi.
The alleged crime was foiled after Pepsi warned Coca-Cola. The three defendants have pleaded not guilty.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gerrilyn Brill has signed an order declaring the case ready for trial, though no trial date has yet been set.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Atlanta, Patrick Crosby, had no immediate comment on Thursday's defense objection.
Coca-Cola spokesman Dana Bolden said he would not comment on what the trade secret was. But as to Singer's concern that the company will not let her talk to Coca-Cola employees directly, Bolden said direct contact is inappropriate.
"What we have said to counsel is we would prefer she go through proper channels," Bolden said. "That would be filing her questions in writing, submitting them through counsel and counsel providing the responses. That's standard practice."
Singer said she needs to speak to Williams' former colleagues to defend her client.
"I'm now at a complete inability to even interview people," Singer said.
She said the employees might be able to support her contention that Williams had authorization to keep at home the documents that authorities found there.
"I also believe it was a common practice for Coke employees to keep documents like Joya had at home," Singer said.
Bolden said he could not comment on Singer's claim, and he referred such questions to the government.
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 (euro1.18 million) transaction was to occur. Documents were also found in Williams' home.
Coke has declined to say what product or products the samples relate to. There has been much secrecy in the case. Singer said some documents provided by prosecutors have been redacted, and that defense lawyers can only see the unredacted copies in the U.S. Attorney's office.
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.
In the court papers filed Thursday, Dimson's lawyer, Anna Blitz, said the indictment labels the things that were allegedly taken from Coca-Cola as trade secrets, products samples and documents, but the government never indicates what specific items it is referring to.
Blitz argues that that is exactly what the defense needs to be told. She has objected to Brill's recommendation that a federal district judge deny the defense motion for a so-called bill of particulars. No final ruling has been made.
Singer said the government should have to pinpoint what was the object of the alleged conspiracy to steal.
"To say there are thousands of pages of documents that we have been given is an understatement," Singer said. "There's just a lot of discovery. A lot of it is not helpful. It's sort of like looking for a needle in a haystack."


Updated : 2021-04-17 15:56 GMT+08:00