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Coca-Cola Allegations Bubble

Several employees of Coca-Cola Co. have accused the soft drink maker of repackaging nearly out-of-date soda cans and bottles and then reselling them at stores in minority neighborhoods.

Coca-Cola officials deny the allegations, which they said were not brought to their attention internally.

One worker who made deliveries to stores in predominantly white and black Dallas neighborhoods said the practice was widespread and well-known when he started working as a Coca-Cola merchandiser in 1993.

Llewellyn Hamilton, 49, said so-called "near-dated" items were shipped from white neighborhood stores and sold at a discount in predominantly black and Hispanic stores.

"They'd lower the price and ship them to the black and Hispanic area stores," Hamilton told The Associated Press on Sunday. "It was common knowledge that we'd recycle it to that neighborhood."

For example, he said about-to-expire 2-liter containers of Coke that sold for $1.19 were marked down to about 69 cents.

"I thought it was strange," he said. "They (customers) knew it was something they had to drink right away."

Rick Gillis, division vice president and general manager for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of North Texas, located in Dallas, said that after a newspaper reporter brought the allegations to their attention about two weeks ago, company officials conducted an internal investigation and spoke with everyone involved in the supply chain.

"We believe without a doubt that these allegations are totally without merit," Gillis said.

But Hamilton said company officials knew of the repackaging and did nothing to stop it. "You'd get those 'don't ask no questions,"' he said.

Kenneth Newsome, a dairy manager at a Sack-N-Save in Oak Cliff, said Coke merchandisers took near-dated soda off the store shelves and repackaged it in the store's back room.

The old soda also was put into the store's vending machines, said Newsome, who has worked at the store for 16 years and first noticed the repackaging about five years ago.

Hamilton now works a new route, delivering drinks to five grocery stores in Garland and Mesquite, both predominantly white suburbs of Dallas. There, the policy on about-to-expire soft drinks is much different, he said.

"If it gets within a month of going out of date, we ship it out," he said. The aging soda is then returned to the bottler, he said.

Bob Lydia, president of the Dallas branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization is still investigating the allegations.

"To this date we have not come up with a final (determination) on this," Lydia said. "We need some hard fast evidence before we make that claim."

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