Where do wildly popular fast food ideas come from?
According to Gary Cole: Prison.
That is the contention of Cole, who claims that it was he who invented Taco Bell’s famous Doritos Locos tacos while doing time in maximum security federal prison in Florence Colorado. He is so adamant about it that on May 15 he filed a federal lawsuit in Dallas alleging that Taco Bell, along with Pepsi, Frito Lay and Taco Bell parent Yum Brands, stole his idea.
Cole has been incarcerated since 1997, when he was given a was given a 25-year sentence for “delaying interstate commerce, conspiring to do so, and using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence,” according to court papers. Fellow inmates include alleged September 11 co-planner Zacarias Moussaoui, shoe bomber Richard Reid and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Cole claims that in 2006 he sent his lawyer a notarized document with a list of nine products he devised, the Dallas Observer reports.
The majority fall under a brand he called “Divas and Ballers,” which include hot sauce, body oil, clothing line, and shoes and accessories. But second on the list was a “Tacos [sic] shells of all flavors (made of Doritos).”
In his 35-page handwritten complaint, Cole–who is representing himself–alleges that in 2010 he had sent his original list via certified mail to Janice B. Cole and Keonia K. Cole. That letter, he maintains, was “stolen through the United States Postal Service Brand and Submitted to Frito Lays [sic], Taco Bell, Yum Brands.”
He contacted the FBI, and also sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Taco Bell, asking to be sent documents relating to the invention of Doritos Loco Tacos. Private companies are generally not subject to FOI laws, however.
He also wrote to the IRS, that “a check was made out to a person for a large amount by Taco Bell, Frito Lay, and Pepsi Co. Inc. for an idea or invention that was submitted to them by theft and fraud.”
While Cole did not specify a monetary amount in his civil action, he did ask the court to place “a lean [sic] and moratorium” on “Taco Bell, Frito Lays, Pepsi Co, Yum Brands, et al. for the fraudulent and concealment, theft, lying, and covering up, to violate patent and trademark, invention and United States Constitutional Rights, to steal the taco shells made of Doritos of all flavors.” [sic]
In an email statement to ABC News, Taco Bell spokesperson Rob Poetsch said that “Given the unprecedented success of Doritos Locos Tacos, we are not surprised others may seek to claim credit. The reality is, the suit is completely without merit as our product innovation team continuously develops and tests new menu concepts, and as a policy we do not accept unsolicited ideas, period.”