By MIKE TIERNEY
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An emotional apology from an ex-Coca Cola secretary convicted of
stealing confidential documents in a plot to sell them to archrival
Pepsi failed to strike a sympathetic chord with a federal judge on
Joya Williams, of Norcross, landed an eight-year prison term from U.S.
District Court Judge J. Owen Forrester, who exceeded sentencing
guidelines that were based on a formula and prosecutors' recommendation.
A co-defendant, Ibrahim Dimson, of New York, got a five-year prison term
also longer than sentencing guidelines based on factors such as criminal
history and cooperation with judicial authorities.
Both were ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution.
Sentencing of a third defendant, Edmund Duhaney, of Decatur, was delayed
until his lawyer completes another trial.
A tearful Williams, 42, doled out remorse to nearly everyone connected
to the case, from Coke to the judge to the prosecutors to her family.
To Forrester, she said, "I really am sorry for any disrespect I showed
you in this courtroom. I ask for your mercy as I attempt to move
Forrester appeared unmoved. "I can't think of a case I've had in 25
years that has had more obstruction of justice," he said.
He accused Williams of lying and, reeling off dollar figures from Coke's
balance sheet, alluded to vast potential damage suffered by the company
had its competitor obtained the documents and found them useful.
Prosecutors say Pepsi contacted Coke after getting an offer of $1.5
million for proprietary materials. Coke arranged with the FBI for an
undercover agent to meet with Dimson, who received a down payment in
cash crammed inside a Girl Scout box. Dimson then turned over to the
agent documents in an Armani bag, leading to the three conspirators'
"The judge's sentence was harsh," said Janice Singer, Williams' lawyer.
She questioned the prosecution's description of the documents as trade
secrets, saying some were not even stamped confidential, and believed
the guideline range of 5 to 6 years was appropriate.
She said she'll appeal the sentence as well as the conviction.
Williams "has maintained from the beginning that, when she took the
documents home, it was not with the intent to harm Coca-Cola," said
Singer, adding that her client was "just not thinking straight."
Anna Blitz, representing Dimson, said she's leaning toward an appeal of
"We're disappointed," she said. "The judge went outside the guideline
range [of three to nearly four years]. There was no reason for him to do
Unlike Williams, who went to trial, Dimson pled guilty early on, and the
judge lauded him for cooperating. Dimson has a felony conviction for
cocaine dealing, while Williams has no prior felonies on her record.
Assistant federal prosecutor Randy Chartash acknowledged that it is
unusual for judges to surpass sentencing guidelines but found the terms
"He thought it was an extremely serious offense," Chartash said.
"Stealing secrets puts major companies . . . in jeopardy."
Fellow prosecutor BJay Pak also found the sentences unsurprising, even
though his office recommended terms within the guidelines.
As for Williams' apology, "It seemed sincere, but it came too late."
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