Many an inebriated college student may have thought about how good tacos wrapped in a Doritos shell would taste, but a prison inmate is suing Irvine-based Taco Bell, saying the idea for the fast-food hit was his.
Gary Anthony Cole, 49, filed a federal lawsuit May 15 in Dallas against Taco Bell, which is owned by Irvine-based Yum Brands, and Frito-Lay, which owns Doritos, and Pepsi Co.
Cole claims he created the idea for the Doritos Locos Tacos for his proposed business, Divas and Ballers, years before the product's 2012 launch, and sent an intercepted letter pitching the idea, according to his complaint.
Cole claims the U.S. Postal Service was in cahoots with the makers of Doritos Locos Tacos.
"This idea and invention was stolen from me through the United States Postal Service Mail," Cole wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which was attached to his complaint.
In a separate letter, Cole submitted in his court documents, a law firm wrote: "Thanks for your April 25th letter, which we received May 3. By now you should have received the taco documents. Hopefully the stress they caused will be relieved.
"Do not 'put a knife' to the staff. That won't do you, or us, any good. I understand your frustration, but we're working on the retaliation issue and would ask that you leave it in our hands."
What the firm referenced was not clear as Cole's initial letter to them wasn't included in his court filings.
"Given the unprecedented success of Doritos Locos Tacos, we are not surprised others may seek to claim credit," Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch wrote in an email. "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."
Taco Bell representatives pointed to a Fast Company magazine article that said the creation of the Doritos-flavored taco shell began in a brainstorming session in 2009, after the company's chief executive issued a directive to reinvent the crunchy taco.
Since its creation, the Nacho Cheese- and Cool Ranch-dusted tacos have drawn considerable attention, in one case heralded in a Daily Beast post titled, "Can This Taco Save America?" citing the company's hiring spree that followed the boom in sales attributed to the reimagined snack.
Cole is incarcerated in a federal prison in Florence, Colo., that is also home to Aryan Brotherhood leader Tyler Bingham and the so-called Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the federal prison "houses offenders requiring the tightest controls."
Cole was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for using a firearm in commission of a crime, according to Kathy Colvin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in northern Texas. His release date from prison is Dec. 31, 2014.