Tom Coughlin (Walmart)

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Thomas M. "Tom" Coughlin (born 1949) is a former vice chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and confidante of founder Sam Walton.

Coughlin is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. He attended St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio, a western suburb of Cleveland, and graduated in 1967. Coughlin attended California State University East Bay in Hayward, California and earned a Bachelor's Degree in political science.

Career with Wal-Mart[edit]

Coughlin began his career with the retailer in 1978 in the company’s security division and eventually became Vice President of Loss Prevention. He later became Vice President of Human Resources. From January 1998 to January 1999, he was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the flagship Wal-Mart Stores Division.[1] The next year, he headed the Wal-Mart Stores Division.

In January 2001, Coughlin was elected to the board of directors for ChoicePoint, a publicly traded data aggregation firm.[2] That same year, he was elected to the Wal-Mart board of directors. In August 2002, he was also given the title of CEO for Sam's Club USA. The following April, he became Executive Vice President and Vice Chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

On December 6, 2004, Wal-Mart announced that Coughlin would retire effective January 24, 2005.[3] When Coughlin's retirement was announced, Wal-Mart praised Coughlin for his longtime success at the corporation. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said in a company-issued press release, "Tom Coughlin has achieved one of the most successful business careers that anyone could imagine..."[4] Wal-Mart Chairman and founder Sam Walton's son, Rob Walton, added that "..I particularly respect the special relationship that he has built with our associates in the field. This says a lot about how well Tom Coughlin represents the Wal-Mart culture."[5] Coughlin was quoted as saying it was "the right time for me to move on."

Legal troubles[edit]

In March 2005, Wal-Mart announced that Coughlin had resigned from the board of directors as a result of an internal investigation.[6] The investigation alleged that the use of corporate-owned gift cards and personal reimbursements estimated to be in the range of $100,000 to $500,000.[7]

Beginning in July 2005, he is the subject of a United States Department of Justice investigation, as well as a lawsuit by Wal-Mart, and is being reviewed by a federal grand jury over misuse of company gift cards. When the charges first surfaced in April 2005, Coughlin claimed the money he embezzled was being used to pay bribes to trade union officials not to organize at Wal-Mart locations and to identify pro-union Wal-Mart workers.[8]

He has pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return related to embezzlement and theft from Wal-Mart while serving as a member of its board.

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 anti-union activities.[1]

Coughlin was sentenced on August 11, 2006 at Fort Smith, Arkansas, to 33 months in home detention after pleading guilty to stealing money, merchandise and gift cards from the retailer.

Coughlin avoided any prison detention, but was ordered 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.[9][10] In addition, Coughlin was ordered by the court to 27 months of home detention[11]

A physician stated in court that Coughlin was in poor health, suffering from diabetes, cardiac disease, sleep apnea, arterial blockage, and other ailments. Despite these medical claims, Coughlin was recently seen at a National Wild Turkey Federation fund raiser in Benton County, Arkansas. Federal prosecutors were stunned to learn that Coughlin would attend such an event while on house arrest—especially since he claimed he was so ill.[12]

Other lawsuits[edit]

Former Wal-Mart employees working under Coughlin are suing him for their role in his embezzlement of Wal-Mart funds. Former Administrative Manager Patsy Stephens deposited Wal-Mart money into her personal bank account and then wrote checks for her immediate superivisor (Robert Hey), Coughlin, and for cash. Stephens claims she thought these practices were to the benefit of the company.[13] Stephens was convicted on eight counts of wire fraud by a federal jury in November 2007.[14]