Fraud charges carry possible 28-year jail term
Former Wal-Mart vice-chairman Thomas Coughlin faces a maximum sentence of 28 years in jail and a US$1.35 million (£758,700) fine, after pleading guilty to a US$500,000 (£281,010) expenses fraud.

The guilty plea was widely anticipated after one of his legal team leaked the plea on Monday. Coughlin resigned last March after it was revealed that he had used company gift cards to buy items for himself, while claiming that the cards were to be given to employees as bonuses.

Initially he had claimed that the money was part of a private slush fund used to try and keep unions out of Wal-Mart's labour force. Wal-Mart strenuously denied the allegation and yesterday Coughlin dropped the defence.

Each fraud count carries a possible sentence of five years in prison and a US$250,000 (£140.505) fine. He is also facing a tax evasion charge that carries a possible sentence of three years in prison and a US$100,000 (£56,202) fine. Sentencing is expected to take place in about three months' time.

Federal sentencing guidelines suggest he will serve no more than two years in jail and prosecutors are expected to recommend a more lenient sentence after Coughlin agreed to co-operate with them and plead guilty.

'Today I accepted responsibility for serious personal mistakes in judgment,' Coughlin said. 'I regret the embarrassment this matter has caused my family and friends and I thank them for their support, love and friendship. I am glad to put this matter to an end.'

Among Coughlin's purchases with the ill-gotten Wal-Mart money were an all-terrain vehicle for US$10,000, a luxury dog kennel for US$2,590, handmade alligator boots for US$1,359, three 12-bore shotguns for US$1,000, a fishing licence for US$10.50, a Celine Dion CD for US$9.72 and a large Polish sausage for US$3.54.