Breaking!!! as the man would say. From the front page of today's (subscription only) WSJ:
Petty Cash: A Wal-Mart Legend's Trail of Deceit
BENTONVILLE, Ark. - 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.
. . . The tale involves another mystery: the "union project." Mr. Coughlin told several Wal-Mart employees that the money was actually being used for antiunion activities, including paying union staffers to tell him of pro-union workers in stores, according to people familiar with the matter. The fake invoices, Mr. Coughlin told these people, were simply a roundabout way of compensating him for out-of-pocket expenses in his antiunion campaign.
If Mr. Coughlin did pay union staffers for information, it would represent a criminal offense under the federal Taft-Hartley Act and ratchet up debate over the retail giant's labor policies. Wal-Mart has vigorously opposed unions since the time of Mr. Walton, who founded the company in 1962. That stance has roiled the retail industry as competing companies with unionized workers have tried to slash wages and benefits in an attempt to keep up with Wal-Mart's rock-bottom prices. People familiar with the matter say that Mr. Coughlin is expected to use the "union project" as part of his defense to the charges about misappropriation of funds. These people give an explanation that wouldn't necessarily involve criminal activity: The payments went to former, rather than current, union people who had information about union activities at Wal-Mart. Even such payments, if made, could raise legal questions. According to Fred Feinstein, the former general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, they could violate the National Labor Relations Act and carry civil penalties.
However, it remains unclear whether any payments were made or whether the union project existed. It is possible that Mr. Coughlin's talk of antiunion work was a cover story to conceal misuse of Wal-Mart funds for personal or other purposes.
If Coughlin did in fact pay off union staffers for info on organizing campaigns, it's criminal -- and the union staffers who took those payments need to be hunted down and arrested, along with Coughlin and any other Wal-Mart execs who particpated in the crime. That said, the UFCW claims it has no knowledge of the issue. My wild-ass guess, at this point, is that Coughlin is going to fall on his sword, claim that the "union project" was merely a ruse to launder petty cash embezzlement, and save the company. But we shall see. There's a dKos diary on the brewing scandal here.