Mr. Coughlin Told Others Bogus Expenses Hid Plot Against Unions Retailer Disputes His Claim
Last November, Thomas M. Coughlin, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s vice chairman, approached a lieutenant with an unusual request. He wanted Jared Bowen to approve around $2,000 in expense payments without any receipts.
Mr. Bowen, then a 31-year-old vice president, recalls that Mr. Coughlin briefly mentioned the money had been used for a "union project."
Concerned that the request seemed fishy, Mr. Bowen eventually alerted another executive, helping trigger an internal probe. Mr. Coughlin, who retired as an executive in January, abruptly resigned on March 25 from his board seat after Wal-Mart found what it said was a pattern of expense-account abuses and the use of false invoices to obtain reimbursements. Several other Wal-Mart employees also have been fired. The U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas is investigating the matter.
Documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal suggest that Mr. Coughlin, 55 years old, periodically had subordinates create fake invoices to get Wal-Mart to pay for his personal expenses. The questionable activity appears to involve dozens of transactions over more than five years, including hunting vacations, a $1,359 pair of alligator boots custom-made for Mr. Coughlin and a $2,590 dog pen for Mr. Coughlin's Arkansas home.
The 6-foot-4 Mr. Coughlin was a Wal-Mart legend -- a protégé and old hunting buddy of founder Sam Walton and for five years the second-highest-ranking executive in a company of more than a million employees. The suggestion that he might have betrayed the company he served for 27 years has shocked many at Wal-Mart and around Bentonville, where the world's biggest retailer is based.