NORFOLK, JUNE 6 -- A former executive of Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co. was acquitted of conspiracy today, a day after the same jury found the company guilty of bribery and conspiracy in a scheme to boost sales to the Navy.
A U.S. District Court jury found the Maryland company guilty on all 11 counts Tuesday after two days of deliberations. The company faces a maximum fine of $1 million. Sentencing was set for Aug. 3.
The jury found James J. Valerio, the former comptroller of Mid-Atlantic's Tidewater division, not guilty of a single count of conspiracy.
The verdict against the company came less than three years after Mid-Atlantic paid a $2 million fine for price-fixing in collusion with a PepsiCo Inc. bottling company. A number of current and former officials of the Coke and Pepsi bottlers were sent to prison in the case.
According to the three weeks of testimony, the company used thousands of cases of discounted or free soft drinks to buy the favor of John R. Sabatino, a civilian employee of the Navy Resale and Service Support Office. In exchange, prosecutors said, Sabatino helped Mid-Atlantic land multimillion-dollar Navy soft-drink contracts beginning in 1984.
Sabatino's department was responsible for soft drink purchases for U.S. Navy bases, including those here and in Virginia Beach.
Prosecutors charge Sabatino also leaked Navy documents, including schedules of ships, to the firm.
According to federal agents, Sabatino formed a company to sell the free or drastically discounted cases of Coke, Sprite, Tab and Mr. Pibb in Florida, making hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit.
Sabatino, who is serving a six-year sentence for an unrelated bribery conviction involving the Langley Air Force Base, hatched the bribery and conspiracy plan, according to prosecutors. Mid-Atlantic quickly saw the advantage for the company in the illegal operation, prosecutors said.
Sabatino, as part of his plea agreement in the Langley case, gave federal officials information about Mid-Atlantic that led to the 11-count indictment.