A former Coca-Cola secretary convicted of conspiring to steal trade secrets from the world's largest beverage maker was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in federal prison.
Joya Williams, 42, had faced up to 10 years in prison on the single conspiracy charge in a failed scheme to sell the materials to rival Pepsi for at least $1.5 million. She was convicted Feb. 2 following a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola is based.
'This is the kind of offense that cannot be tolerated in our society,' U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester said in imposing sentence.
A co-defendant, Ibrahim Dimson, was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
Forrester's sentence for Williams was more severe than the 63- to 78-month sentence recommended by federal prosecutors and federal sentencing guidelines.
He said the seriousness of the crime necessitated a departure from the guidelines, which federal judges are not bound by.
'I can't think of another case in 25 years that there's been so much obstruction of justice,' the judge said of Williams' conduct.
Forrester largely ignored a tearful apology by Williams, which was the first time she acknowledged what she did.
'I just wanted to say that I'm not a bad person,' Williams told the judge before he imposed sentence. 'I'm really not.'
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 launched 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. Duhaney will be sentenced later.
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 launched an undercover investigation and identified the letter writer as Dimson.
Williams was fired as a secretary to Coca-Cola's global brand director at the company's headquarters after the allegations came to light.