In a case that Wal-Mart must wish would go away quickly, a second ousted executive has asked federal officials to consider him a “whistleblower” because he refused to approve expenses by another Wal-Mart official who is now in the spotlight for allegedly using company funds to spy on unions. Former Wal-Mart Vice President Jared Bowen requested this week that the U.S. Attorney’s office bestow “whistleblower” status for him — claiming that Bowen refused to comply with instructions from Tom Coughlin, who was forced out of Wal-Mart in March. Before his fall from a lofty perch, Coughlin was the Vice Chairman of Wal-Mart’s board of directors, and was once considered a candidate for CEO of the giant retailer. Bowen’s claim that he was not an accomlice of Coughlin would remove him from charges that he attempted to defraud Wal-Mart. A federal grand jury is now investigating Coughlin’s activities, and Wal-Mart’s knowledge of it. But Wal-Mart has distanced itself from Bowen. A company official told the Associated Press that Bowen “admitted during interviews he had approved transactions that violated company policy and then remained silent for months rather than step forward.” Wal-Mart insists it was not Bowen who alerted them to Coughlin’s misuse of Wal-Mart’s gift cards. Wal-Mart has stated that Bowen was essentially a co-conspirator with Coughlin, not a whistleblower. The company says Bowen, “along with others, assisted Tom Coughlin in a scheme to defraud the company. Additionally, once the investigation began, he did not give a complete and accurate account of his knowledge and involvement in multiple transactions. As (a company) officer he had the highest fiduciary duty to the company.” Bowen’s lawyer is now asking federal prosecutors to investigate whether Wal-Mart violated federal law by firing Bowen.
Tom Coughlin’s alleged inappropriate use of gift cards to raise funds to spy on union activities has turned out to truly be a “gift” to Wal-Mart opponents. The executive level controversy swirling through the highest rank of the company have helped to scuff up the squeaky clean image that top Wal-Mart executive have tried to create in recent months with their “extreme makeover” of the retailer’s PR campaign. Just as Wal-Mart steps up its “we’re good for America” campaign, several of its top officials are dumped for defrauding the company. Even though most members of the public will not grasp the details, the continuing headlines of executive misconduct have been a wonderful gift to the company’s critics