- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge ignored a former Coca-Cola secretary’s plea for mercy yesterday and sentenced her to eight years in prison for conspiring to steal trade secrets from the world’s largest beverage maker.

U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester told Joya Williams, 42, that he was giving her a longer sentence than recommended by federal prosecutors and sentencing guidelines because “this is the kind of offense that cannot be tolerated in our society.”

Williams had faced up to 10 years in prison on the single conspiracy charge in a failed scheme to sell Coke’s trade secrets to rival Pepsico Inc. for at least $1.5 million.

But sentencing guidelines, which federal judges are not bound by, called for a sentence of 63 months to 78 months. Williams was convicted Feb. 2 after a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, where the Coca-Cola Co. is based.

“I can’t think of another case in 25 years that there’s been so much obstruction of justice,” the judge said.

As for the sentencing guidelines, Judge Forrester said, “The guidelines as they are written don’t begin to approach the seriousness of this case.”

A co-defendant, Ibrahim Dimson, was sentenced to five years in prison. Both also were ordered to pay $40,000 restitution, and they will be on supervised release for three years after getting out of prison.

Judge Forrester ignored a tearful apology by Williams, which marked the first time she acknowledged what she did. Williams had testified during the trial that she did not commit a crime.

“Your honor, I have expanded my consciousness through this devastating experience,” Williams said before she was sentenced. “This has been a very defining moment in my life. I have become infamous when I never wanted to become famous.”

She added, “I am sorry to Coke and I’m sorry to my boss and to you and to my family as well.”

The government said Williams stole confidential documents and samples of products that hadn’t been debuted by Coca-Cola and gave them to Dimson and a third defendant, Edmund Duhaney, as part of a conspiracy to sell the items to Pepsi. Duhaney, like Dimson, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Before the Coke case, Duhaney and Dimson had been incarcerated at the same federal prison in Alabama at the same time.

Duhaney, who had been friends with Williams for years, will be sentenced for the Coke conspiracy later. A date was not immediately set because Duhaney’s lawyer, Don Samuel, is in the midst of another trial. Mr. Samuel filed a request yesterday to allow Duhaney to be released from custody today for several days so he can be at the hospital with his 15-year-old daughter, who is having surgery. Judge Forrester granted the request.

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

Williams was fired as a secretary to Coca-Cola’s global brand director after the charges came to light.

Williams’ apology yesterday lasted for several minutes and she asked the judge to show mercy, though Judge Forrester had told her before she spoke that he planned to depart from sentencing guidelines.

“Punishment is the memories and the moments that I’m going to miss,” she said. “Punishment is never having a family of my own.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak told the judge that Williams didn’t deserve leniency.

“Choices have consequences and she made those choices,” Mr. Pak said. “She chose to go to trial and she lied on the stand.”

At the hearing, prosecutors disclosed that Williams has two convictions on her record — one involving making false statements related to unemployment insurance.

Williams’ lawyers had repeatedly asserted in court and out of court that Williams had no criminal past, and the government until yesterday did not challenge that assertion.

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