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Lying on resumes: When business execs go rogue

David Tovar, the VP of corporate communications at Walmart (WMT), had been a rising star at the retailer. One big problem: He lied on his resume. And, unfortunately for him, it cost him the job.

Tovar fudged his biography for the last nearly two decades about graduating from the University of Delaware with an arts degree. While he did attend the institution for four years, he was credits shy of receiving his diploma. Instead of finishing up the degree, he started his career. Until just recently, no one noticed.

“I got a job and never looked back,” Tovar said Tuesday in an interview on CNBC. “I really didn’t think an art degree would matter in communications, which was the field I went into.”

But a routine background check while being considered for a promotion turned up the discrepancy. He told CNBC: “Walmart said they could not promote me based on what they found. I said that the more senior job is the one that I wanted, so we agreed I would leave.”

Earlier this year, Tovar gained widespread media attention for a post on Walmart’s blog attacking a New York Times story for being “wildly inaccurate.” But it seems like so, too, was the biography he was touting for the past 18 years.

Tovar is by no means alone for fluffing up his resume. In fact, he joins an elite list of businessmen who’ve inflated their resumes to gain advantage in the corporate world. Resume lies are apparently on the rise, with the issue having gotten worse since the recession. Fortune looked into some of those cases.

1. Scott Thompson, CEO of Yahoo

In one of the most high-profile resume blunders of all-time, Scott Thompson said he had earned a computer science degree from Stonehill College. Yes, he did graduate from Stonehill. The only problem: he actually got a degree in accounting. The resume issue first came to light after activist shareholder firm Third Point called into question Thompson’s education. Further complicating the matter, the former Yahoo (YHOO) CEO was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the time, which he used to partly explain why he was stepping down.

2. David Edmondson, CEO of RadioShack

** FILE ** David Edmondson, Chief Executive Officer of RadioShack Corp. stands in the gaming area of StoreOne, a prototype store located nearby their headquarters, Wednesday, May 18, 2005, in Fort Worth, Texas. Edmondson, resigned Monday Feb. 20, 2006 following questions about his resume’s accuracy. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

In another stunning case of resume padding gone awry, David Edmondson lied for years about earning two college degrees. In reality, he had none. But word got out in 2006 and Leonard Roberts, the executive chairman of RadioShack (RSH), had some harsh words about the situation. He said at a press conference: “When our company’s credibility becomes based on a single individual, it is time for a change. One of the most important things we have as a corporation is integrity and trust. We have to restore that back to the company.” Needless to say, the lies cost Edmondson his job in 2006.

3. Jeffrey Papows, President of IBM’s Lotus

Jeffery Papows, CEO of Lotus Corporation, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on competition in the digital age, July 23. Papows told the committee that computer maker Acer America expressed concern about jeopardizing its relationship with Microsoft during negotiations to buy rival software from Lotus.

LR/HB/ME – RTRFTVL

He said he had a PhD from Pepperdine University. He was also supposedly a black belt in taekwondo. Then there were the stories of his time spent flying airplanes for the Marines. Unfortunately, none of those facts were actually true. Instead, these were simply tall tales told by Papows to impress. In fact, the president of IBM’s (IBM) unit secured deals with the military simply because of his alleged service. He’s even said to have lied about being an orphan while growing up. The reality? His parents lived pretty close by IBM’s offices in Massachusetts. He resigned in 2000 after also being accused by a former Lotus executive of sexual harassment. “I have come to this decision after a great deal of very difficult reflection about where Lotus is right now and about my own future,” wrote Papows in a statement to employees.

4. Jack Grubman, analyst at Salomon Smith Barney

Jack Grubman, telecommunications analyst at Salomon, Smith Barney, testifes on Capitol Hill Monday, July 8, 2002, before the House Financial Services Committee hearing on WorldCom. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)

As one of the highest paid analysts at one point in his career by making $20 million per year, Grubman provides another another high-profile example of resume lying. Although he wasn’t fired for his fib, it was an interesting case. He got the city right, but not quite the school. Grubman lied about attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. In fact, he went to Boston University. In an interview with BusinessWeek in 2000, Grubman admitted to lying because he “probably felt insecure.” Hard to imagine given his dominance of the telecom industry over the years. In 2002, he was banned from the industry after putting out misleading information.

5. Ronald Zarrella, CEO of Bausch & Lomb

President of North American Operations for General Motors Corp, Ronald Zarrella, speaks during a press conference at the Chicago auto show, February 11. Zarrella said that GM could have trouble hitting its 30 percent market share goal if the overall market continues at its hot pace. – RTXIR7I

In 2002, Ronald Zarrella, the CEO of Bausch & Lomb, a maker of eye-care products, mistakenly said he’d earned a master’s degree in business administration from New York University. While he did attend the program from 1972 to 1976, according to The New York Times, he left before completing the program. “I’m embarrassed that some of this incorrect information appeared in some of our published materials on my background,” said Zarrella in a statement. ”Clearly it’s my obligation to proofread such things carefully and ensure their accuracy.” While his resignation was ultimately rejected, Bausch & Lomb’s board did make Zarrella forfeit a $1.1 million bonus because of his falsified biography.