Former Wal-Mart Exec Sentenced for Theft

The Associated Press
Friday, August 11, 2006; 6:06 PM

FORT SMITH, Ark. -- A former No. 2 Wal-Mart executive who began his career as the company's theft prevention chief was sentenced Friday to 27 months in home detention after pleading guilty to stealing money, merchandise and gift cards from the retailer.

Thomas Coughlin, 57, avoided any prison time, but was ordered also to serve five years probation, and pay a $50,000 fine and about $411,000 in restitution to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the Internal Revenue Service.

Prosecutors had asked for Coughlin to serve six months to a year in prison, but U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson agreed with a doctor who testified that Coughlin's health was too poor for him to enter prison.

Coughlin pleaded guilty in January to stealing items from the world's largest retailer that were worth just a fraction of the millions of dollars he earned in salary, bonuses and stock options.

"There is no excuse for my conduct," Coughlin said during the hearing.

Dawson said Coughlin had been an exemplary citizen before this case and had already been punished by the surrounding publicity. Dawson also noted that Coughlin still faces the possibility of losing his retirement benefits if Wal-Mart succeeds with a civil lawsuit that is currently under appeal.

"It has been a spectacular fall," the judge said in sentencing Coughlin.

Wal-Mart said it was pleased that the case was concluded and noted that U.S. Attorney Robert Balfe told reporters the investigation had found no evidence backing Coughlin's earlier claims that the money he took was reimbursement for unspecified anti-union activities.

Wal-Mart has denied there was any anti-union project headed by Coughlin.

"U.S. Attorney Balfe confirmed that the government thoroughly investigated Mr. Coughlin's claims and found no wrong doing on the part of the company," Wal-Mart said in a statement after the sentencing.

"Our company's actions throughout this process have been consistent with our core values and the principle that all associates are held accountable to the same standard, regardless of their position," Wal-Mart said.

Coughlin appeared to revive those allegations of anti-union work in comments to reporters outside the courthouse after he was sentenced.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Associated Press