The bizarre plot could have proved ruinous for Coca-Cola: thieves tried to sell some of its secrets to PepsiCo. But after a tip from Pepsi, the FBI last week arrested the culprits. "Competition can be fierce," says Pepsi spokesman Dave DeCecco, "but must also be fair and legal." Here's how the soda sting went down.
Whodunit? Federal prosecutors say they have videotape of a secretary at Coca-Cola, Joya Williams, sneaking classified materials from the company's Atlanta headquarters in her handbag. Co-conspirators Ibrahim Dimson and Edmund Duhaney allegedly helped her try to sell what she had to Pepsi.
What secrets were for sale? The recipes for some Coca-Cola products and details of future promotions (asking price for a selection of this information: $15,000). There was also a sample of a new beverage not yet on the market ($75,000).
How were the thieves caught? A man calling himself Dirk sent Pepsi HQ a letter in May, offering secrets. When Pepsi got the letter, it immediately contacted Coke, which called the FBI. On June 16, an undercover agent met Dirk--actually Dimson--at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Dimson handed over some documents and the beverage sample. The agent gave Dimson $30,000 in cash, stuffed in a Girl Scout cookie box--a down payment. After the items were authenticated, the agent agreed to meet Dimson last week to buy more secrets for $1.5 million. That's when he and his co-conspirators were arrested.
What about the ultimate Coca-Cola secret: Does its recipe really contain cocaine? That burning question can't be answered definitively, and the recipe for Classic Coke wasn't stolen. Coke officials deny the drug was ever an ingredient. But experts, including a former U.S. drug czar, have long said the coca plant--cocaine's source--once flavored Coke, which might explain why it was sold early on as a "brain tonic." Maybe the thieves should have had a drink. --