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Wal-Mart Board Member Resigns After Investigation

By Amy Joyce and Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 26, 2005; Page D12

A senior board member of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. resigned at the company's request yesterday following an internal investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds.

The company said it asked Thomas M. Coughlin, a former vice chairman of the board of directors, to resign after a disagreement between Coughlin and the company over the results of a recent internal investigation. The probe focused on misuse of corporate gift cards and personal reimbursements that appear to have been obtained from Wal-Mart through false invoices and expense reports, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of the funds involved is estimated to be $100,000 to $500,000.

Thomas M. Coughlin had been among the retailer's top officers. (April L. Brown -- AP)

Three Wal-Mart employees, including one officer, were also terminated in connection with the investigation. The company did not release their names.

Coughlin, whose duties included overseeing Wal-Mart's U.S. divisions and operations such as logistics, had been the second-highest-ranking executive at Wal-Mart, under the giant retailer's chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr., until his retirement in January. Coughlin announced his retirement from the company in December. At the time, he also stepped down as vice chairman of the board but said he would remain a member until his term expires June 3, when Wal-Mart holds its annual meeting.

In a statement yesterday, Wal-Mart announced it initiated the investigation "on its own and has now referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas."

The company said it did so based on the investigation's results, "including Mr. Coughlin's response to questions concerning his knowledge of certain transactions." William M. Cromwell, the first assistant U.S. attorney for that district, declined to comment.

The company's statement also said "there will be no adverse financial impact to the company in connection with this matter."

A company spokeswoman said there would be no further comment beyond the statement.

There was no answer at a telephone number listed under Thomas M. Coughlin in Bentonville, Ark., the town that serves as Wal-Mart's headquarters.

Coughlin joined Wal-Mart in 1978. He served in various positions, including vice president of loss prevention, vice president of human resources, executive vice president of Sam's Club operations, executive vice president of specialty groups, and executive vice president and chief operating officer of Wal-Mart store operations. In April 2003, he was elected to the Wal-Mart board of directors. He is also a director of ChoicePoint Inc.

He gave no reason for his retirement earlier this year, but analysts had said it was due to sluggish same-store sales.

In his three-sentence letter resigning his board position, he made no reference to the allegations mentioned in Wal-Mart's filing with the SEC.

"I leave with warm feelings for the company and all the people who have made it great," he wrote in the letter, also filed with the SEC. "I have appreciated the opportunity to serve."

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