I-Team: Official says sudden Walmart closing was suspicious

Commissioner says normally company plans ahead

BRANDON, Fla. - Walmart stores across the country suddenly closed Monday, supposedly as a result of plumbing problems.

Now a Hillsborough County commissioner who has worked closely with the company for years says he has plenty of questions.

MORE: ONE CLOSED WAL-MART WAS SITE OF UNION BATTLES

In Midland, Texas, which, until Monday, was home to one of the 10 busiest Walmart stores in the country, City Building Official Steve Thorpe told the I-Team his plumbing inspector was sent away when he visited the closed store and offered to help secure permits.

I-TEAM: WAL-MARTS CLOSED FOR PLUMBING ISSUES NEVER SOUGHT PERMITS

While the company claimed to have an average of 100 to 150 plumbing issues a year in recent years, a longtime employee of a tax service located in the store told the I-Team she never saw a plumber or an "out of order" restroom in the three years she worked inside the store.

She said she was forced to pack up all the computers and paper files in her kiosk in a matter of hours Monday on what was one of her company’s busiest days of the year.

At the Brandon Walmart Monday night, a five-hour, unadvertised going-out-of-business sale was held after employees were informed the store would be closed for at least six months for plumbing and other renovations.

The store pays more than $243,000 a year in Hillsborough County ad valorem taxes and collects many times that amount in sales tax revenues.

The store appeared to have been fully stocked with perishables when the sudden closure was announced.

Fresh cut flowers were on hand at the Tulsa, Okla., store.

The I-Team has learned no plumbing permits have been pulled in any of the five cities where the stores were suddenly closed for at least six months.

Permits in Midland show 70 plumbing fixtures were just replaced in an eight-week period three years ago.

That store never closed during that renovation.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist says Walmart officials didn't even mention plumbing issues when they reached out to him, informing him of the closure which affected more than 400 workers.

He says that, for now, he has to take them at their word that they are closing to improve the store.

“It's really too early to tell whether or not there were mistakes made. There's issues to be held accountable for. But we're gonna watch, we're gonna look, we're gonna listen and we're gonna make the appropriate steps if we see anything that is wrong,” Crist said.

Three city and county officials we spoke to said this week's action was extremely unusual for Walmart, which always notifies officials ahead of time of renovation plans and normally seeks permits weeks in advance.

If you have something you think the I-Team should investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com.

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