- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A high-profile Wal-Mart Stores Inc. board member resigned yesterday after an internal probe turned up evidence of financial improprieties of as much as a half-million dollars. Three Wal-Mart employees, including a company officer, also lost their jobs.

The world’s largest retailer said it asked Thomas M. Coughlin, who is a former president and chief executive of the company’s stores division, to step down because of “a disagreement” over the results of the probe, which involves between $100,000 and $500,000, and his “response to questions concerning his knowledge of certain transactions,” according to a regulatory filing.

The Securities and Exchange Commission document does not directly state what role, if any, Mr. Coughlin had in “the alleged unauthorized use of corporate-owned gift cards and personal reimbursements that appear to have been obtained … through the reporting of false information on third-party invoices and company expense reports.”

In a separate statement, Wal-Mart said that it did not expect any adverse financial effect from the investigation. The Bentonville, Ark., company did not name or otherwise identify the three fired employees and declined further comment yesterday.

Wal-Mart also said it initiated the investigation on its own and has referred its findings to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. The U.S. attorney’s office had no comment.

Mr. Coughlin, who had been with the company for 28 years, was most recently the board’s vice chairman. Previously, he had served as executive vice president and president and chief executive of the Wal-Mart Stores Division and Sam’s Club, USA. He also serves on the board of directors of ChoicePoint Inc.

In his resignation letter to Wal-Mart that accompanied the SEC filing, he wrote, “I leave with warm feelings for the company and all the people who have made it great. I have appreciated the opportunity to serve.” He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Coughlin was often referred to as Wal-Mart’s No. 2 executive. The company announced in December that he would retire in January to spend time with his family and pursue other business interests. His term on the Wal-Mart board runs through June. He has been vice chairman and a board member since April 2003.

In February, the city of Bentonville announced that it would name its new public library after Mr. Coughlin after the Walton Family Foundation and Wal-Mart Sam’s Club Foundation donated $4 million to the project.

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