After Pepsi-Cola Co. informed Coke it had been approached to buy "confidential information," Coke contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which conducted a sting that resulted in the arrest of two men and one women, who was an administrative assistant of a top-level Coke employee. The group's plan was to sell highly confidential documents regarding a new Coke product in development, along with a product sample.
Good corporate citizenship
"We commend PepsiCo's good corporate citizenship, the Coca-Cola Co.'s immediate referral to law enforcement and subsequent cooperation, and the FBI's solid investigation in making this case," U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said in a statement.
"We just did what any responsible company would do. Competition can be fierce, but it also needs to be fair," said Pepsi spokesman Dave DeCecco.
The arrests for stealing trade secrets and wire fraud capped a six-week FBI investigation set in motion when Pepsi provided to Coke a letter it received from a person claiming to be a high-level Coke executive offering "very detailed and confidential information."
Those charged were Ibrahim Dimson, 30, of New York; Edmund Duhaney, 43, of Decatur, Ga.; and Joya Williams, 41, of Norcross, Ga. Ms. Williams, the executive administrative assistant at Coke, was identified as the source of some of the information, according to the criminal complaint.
The two men were allegedly involved in the wire fraud transaction, with Mr. Dimson acting as the negotiator and Mr. Duhaney participating in the banking aspects, according to the complaint.
'Highly Restricted' documents
The case began on May 19, when PepsiCo received a letter from "Dirk," who claimed to be a high-level Coke executive offering "very detailed and confidential information." After Coke contacted the FBI, an undercover agent contacted Dirk, later identified as Mr. Dimson, who provided 14 pages of information marked "Classified -- Confidential" and "Classified -- Highly Restricted." Coke later confirmed the documents were authentic and indeed highly confidential.
E-mail correspondence asked for $10,000 as proof of good faith in the transaction. "I have the capability of obtaining information per request. I have information that's all classified and extremely confidential, that only a handful of the top execs at my company have seen. I can even provide actual products and packaging of certain products, that no eye has seen, outside of maybe five top execs," according to one e-mail from Dirk. "I need to know today, if I have a serious partner or not. If the good-faith money is in my account by Monday, that will be an indication of your seriousness."
Other authenticated documents were offered for another $5,000 and Dirk agreed to $75,000 for a highly confidential product sample of a new Coca-Cola project.
Undercover meeting at airport
Mr. Dimson met with an FBI undercover agent June 16 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to make the transaction. He handed over a manila envelope with documents marked "highly confidential" and a white-labeled glass bottle filled with the product sample liquid. The FBI agent paid $30,000 using $100 and $50 bills placed in a Girl Scout cookie box for the exchange. The agent agreed to pay the additional $45,000 after successfully testing the product.
Mr. Dimson left and met another person later identified as Edmund Duhaney. In a rental car, the two drove to Mr. Duhaney's home in Decatur.
On June 27, an undercover FBI agent offered to buy from Dirk the remaining secret items for $1.5 million. The agent agreed to wire the funds to a bank account that was set up that day in the names of Messrs. Duhaney and Dimson.
Coca-Cola CEO Neville Isdell, in a memo to employees obtained by the Associated Press, said that while "this breach of trust is difficult for all of us to accept, it underscores the responsibility we each have to be vigilant in protecting our trade secrets. Information is the lifeblood of the company."