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2006-02-01
Fort Smith, AR. Jail Time For Wal-Mart’s Former Vice Chairman

Today is the start of Wal-Mart's new fiscal year, and what a grand way to begin it -- with the confession by its former Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors to fraud and tax charges. Tom Coughlin, the man who once said, "At Wal-Mart we make dust, our competitors eat dust," has turned his own career into dust this week. Coughlin, 57, admitted in a court plea that he stole money, gift cards and merchandise from Wal-Mart, his employer. Specifically, Coughlin pled guilty to five counts of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. Coughlin could face as much as 28 years in jail, and a fine of $1.35 million, according to the Associated Press. Coughlin admitted that he: submitted a phony travel expense voucher to pay $700 allegedly for travel and meeting expenses, but which was actually for the care of Coughlin's hunting dog; used a false invoice for $6,500 to pay for a private hunting lease; used a false expense statement to cover $2,695 for upgrades to his 1999 Ford truck, which he claimed as reimbursement for meeting expenses; used fraudulently obtained gift cards to pay for a cooler, two cases of Smirnoff, two cases of Miller Light beer, a bottle of Jack Daniels, a carton of tequila and other items from a Sam's Club; used a false invoice to receive a check for $3,100 that was cashed and the funds provided back to Coughlin for his personal use; filed a false tax return. Wal-Mart turned Couglin in to authorities once they realized that he had been embezzling money from the company. The company claims that Coughlin used phony expense vouchers to buy snakeskin boots, hunting trips and Bloody Mary mix. Wal-Mart says that Coughlin stole half a million from the company. "This was not an easy decision. I regret the embarrassment this matter has caused my family and friends and I thank them for their support, love and friendship," Coughlin said in a prepared statement. While he was working as one of the top dogs at Wal-Mart, Coughlin received a base salary of $1.03 million. While the 1.3 million rank and file workers at Wal-Mart slaved away for their paltry wages, Coughlin raked in on top of his salary $3.09 million in bonuses and other income in fiscal 2005. He also sits on $20 million in Wal-Mart stock, so he certainly didn't need to steal money to buy his Bloody Mary mix or a pair of cowboy boots. Even in his final statement of disgrace, Coughlin urged his fellow Wal-Mart employees to "pull together in fulfilling Sam Walton's dream of creating the world's greatest retailer."

What you can do: Tom Coughlin has become the poster boy for Wal-Mart's business ethics. The whole incident supports the theory that organizations, like fish, rot from the head down. A Wal-Mart spokesman could only say that the Coughlin scandal was "embarrassing and painful" for the retailer, which spends big advertising money to appear squeaky clean and morally virtuous. "Someone we expected to operate with the highest integrity let us down in a very public way. Wal-Mart has high ethical standards and the way we handled this matter makes it clear that every associate will be held to these standards with no exception," the company said. Until the next scandal. Wal-Mart tried to block Coughlin's multi-million dollar retirement package, and reclaim some of their misused funds, but an Arkansas judge tossed that case out. Wal-Mart has appealed the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Coughlin claimed that he had used his Wal-Mart funds to pay for anti-union activities, but Wal-Mart has denied there was ever an anti-union project that Coughlin was in charge of. So that curious statement has now been buried in the court records, and we may never know the truth of Coughlin's claims. Because Coughlin is sparing prosecutors a trial, instead of prison, a more appropriate sentence would be to require Sam Walton's protégé to serve out the rest of his life as a Greeter at Wal-Mart, which would be tantamount to jail time










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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