Straight out of an Ian Fleming novel, the story of “Coca-Cola Heist” has all the elements of an engaging, thrilling spy story.
13 years ago, an irked employee of Coca-Cola tried to sell some confidential documents and the alleged secret formulae to Pepsi and what followed next will shock you to the core!
All mortal souls are aware of the ‘Blood-Feud’ between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, also infamously known as the ‘Cola-Wars’. From smashing a Pepsi bottle in a press conference to releasing derogatory controversial adds, these soda companies went to all lengths to prove their sole dominance in the market.
This is one reason you’ll be astounded by the story even more!
A hot summer afternoon of 2006 witnessed an Ibrahim Dimson wandering around Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport clutching a cookie-box stuffed with $30k. He had landed upon that kind of money in return to an Armani Exchange duffle bag containing dozens of stolen Coca-Cola documents and a vial of a secret formula — all marked “highly confidential”, to a man named Jerry, who claimed to be an executive from Pepsi.
So far so good. Everything was moving swiftly in the right direction, it was just a matter of moments when Pepsi will hold the custody of Coca-Cola’s alleged secret recipe. The doom was inevitable for Coca-Cola now.
But wait, let us take you to the very beginning of how ‘The Coca-Cola Heist’ took off in the first place.
A Coca-Cola, secrecy is the essence on which this huge empire is standing firmly. Just so you know, only two people on this earth know the secret-formulae of the original Coke and they’re not allowed to travel on the same plane!
Joya Williams was an exemplary employee of Coke. Born to a Church deacon and a Sunday school superintendent, she laboured hard at Coca-Cola’s largest bottling factory for 3.5 years, before joining corporate in 2005 as the Administrative Assistant to the Global Head of Marketing. Being the assistant of the Global Head of Marketing, she was relegated with sensitive emails, internal documents, and yet-to-be-released products.
She mistook her ‘responsibilities’ for an ‘opportunity’ to make it big on her own and made a full-proof plan to stab them in back.
One thing led to another and soon Edmund Duhaney, a 40-year-old father of three, who had just gotten out of prison on cocaine charges, found himself an accomplice of Williams in the scam of the era.
Williams told Duhaney that she possessed a ‘treasure’ for which Coca-Cola’s major competitor Pepsi would go to any lengths.
There was one technical glitch though. Since she’d signed a non-disclosure agreement with Coca-Cola, she could not deliver the trove of “highly classified” Coca-Cola documents herself, that’s where Duhaney came in the picture. Duhaney introduced Ibrahim Dimson, a young white-collar crook, he’d met in prison to Williams.
Under the anonym “Dirk”, he contacted a Senior VP at Pepsi by writing him a letter claiming himself to be a high-level Coca-Cola executive with “extremely confidential” secrets which he’s willing to trade for good money.
Much to their delight, they received a call within two weeks from supposed PepsiCo employee by the name of “Jerry.” Jerry played safe and asked for proof of the possession of the alleged “extremely confidential” secrets. A little later, he received a 14-page long fax from Dimson, all marked “confidential information” or “classified-highly restricted”.
Things were gradually but smoothly falling in place now. The day was not far when Williams would be practically playing with the kind of money she’d never see working for Coca-Cola all her life.
Provided the proof, even Dimson was not a noob. He asked Jerry to wire a certain amount of money to a provided bank account, to prove his authenticity. Shortly thereafter, he received a transfer for $5k and here it all began!
Williams managed to sneak out hoards of documents (presentations, internal emails, development proposals), actual samples of unreleased products and a small vial of a “secret” product under development.
The ‘treasure’ was then procured safely in Dimson’s custody for the final deal. Dimson negotiated a deal of $75k — $30k upfront and $45k later after tests.
This led to the meeting and exchanging of bags at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Soon after receiving the cash, the trio left for Georgia. To their much surprise, they received a call from Jerry 10 days later offering them $1.5m for the remaining trade secrets.
The ‘trio’ was baffled by their success. It was as if they’d struck a pot of gold or so they thought!
Just like in any bad spy movie, expect the unexpected, Jerry wasn’t who he claimed to be! He was FBI Special Agent Gerald Reichard.
*Flash Back Ahead* Months earlier, when Pepsi received the trio’s first letter, THEY PROMPTLY FORWARDED IT TO COCA-COLA, INFORMING THEM THAT THEY HAD A LEAKER!!!
That’s when Coca-Cola brought in the FBI to conduct an undercover investigation!
Shortly after, On July 5, 2006, Williams, Dimson, and Duhaney were arrested on charges of wire fraud and unlawfully stealing and selling trade secrets.
Duhaney and Dimson were handed 2- and 5-year prison sentences, while Williams ended up spending 8 years in the cell.
Everything is fair in love and war, and a corporate war between the soda dominions reaching summits at a time when the convivial unexpected happened!
According to a Pepsico spokesperson:
“Competition can be fierce, but it must also be fair and legal.”
In times when high-profile rival organizations are being accused of trade secret theft to bring the businesses down, they could sure learn a lot about ‘Corporate Ethics’ from Pepsi and Coca-Cola!