Former Coke secretary to be sentenced

ATLANTA - A former Coca-Cola secretary's claim of innocence during her trial could weigh against her when she is sentenced today for conspiring to steal trade secrets from the world's largest beverage maker.

Joya Williams faces up to 10 years in prison for the foiled scheme to steal secrets from Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and sell them to Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc. for at least $1.5 million. She was convicted Feb. 2.

Williams, 42, asserted her innocence and testified at trial that she did nothing wrong in the Coke case. That could weigh against her at sentencing. Both are factors that federal judges are allowed to consider when imposing a sentence.

''Penalizing someone for exercising their right to testify on their own behalf is in every sense wrong, but it has been challenged in court and it has been upheld,'' said Janice Singer, Williams' attorney.

Williams doesn't have a prior criminal record, and that could benefit her at sentencing.

A prosecution spokesman, Patrick Crosby, declined to say Tuesday what sentence the

government will recommend for Williams. Details of a pre-sentence report prepared by

probation officials were under wraps.

Another defendant, Ibrahim Dimson, also was scheduled to be sentenced today. A third defendant, Edmund Duhaney, was expected to be sentenced later because his attorney is tied up on another trial. Dimson and Duhaney pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

The government said Williams stole confidential documents and samples of products that hadn't been launched from The Coca-Cola Co. and gave them to Dimson and Duhaney as part of a conspiracy to sell the items to Pepsi.

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.

Singer said Tuesday that she will ask U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester for leniency for Williams, though the attorney said she hadn't decided whether to seek a specific sentence. Forrester is not bound by federal sentencing guidelines, though any departure from the guidelines has to be reasonable.

Singer said her client is in ''decent spirits'' heading into sentencing.

''She wants to move on with this part of her life and get this behind her,'' Singer said.

A fire that destroyed Williams' apartment in Norcross nearly 90 minutes after the guilty verdict also is mentioned in the pre-sentence report, according to Singer. It is unclear how, if at all, that will play in at sentencing or down the road.