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Former Wal-Mart Exec to plead guilty

Former Wal-Mart Vice Chairman Thomas Coughlin has agreed to plead guilty to federal wire-fraud and tax-evasion charges.

Mr. Coughlin, formerly the giant retailers No. 2 executive, left the company early last year amid accusations that he misappropriated as much as $500,000 from Wal-Mart through fraudulent reimbursements and improper use of gift cards.

Federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, but which are still adhered to by most judges, call for a sentence of in excess of two years, according to people familiar with the matter.

Under terms of the deal, Mr. Coughlin will plead guilty to five counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion, according to the people familiar with matter. A court hearing on the plea deal is set for later in January.

The most explosive aspect of the drama may remain unresolved. Mr. Coughlin is expected claim that, in part, he was reimbursing himself for a secret scheme to fund an anti-union spy operation.

But Federal prosecutors for the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Western District of Arkansas have found no significant evidence that Mr. Coughlin was part of any clandestine intelligence operation directed at unions, according to someone familiar with the investigation. Wal-Mart has said it has also investigated the matter and found Mr. Coughlins claims to be untrue.

The deal ends several months of negotiations between Mr. Coughlins lawyers and prosecutors. Mr. Coughlins lawyers, who include William Taylor and Blair Brown, persuaded prosecutors not to pursue money laundering charges, which could have added substantially to his sentence.

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