Craig Wheaton’s practice focuses on employee benefits, including retirement and welfare plans, executive compensation and fiduciary compliance. Craig, previously a partner at Kilpatrick Stockton, LLP, has provided representation to many public and private entities, including some of the largest employers in North Carolina, the Southeast and the United States. He also regularly represents bank trust departments, insurers, financial advisors accounting and law firms, and other service providers in the benefits industry.
Craig has assisted many entities in resolving employee benefits compliance matters and controversies. He has provided representation to national financial institutions in disputes involving tens of millions of dollars in retirement plan assets. He regularly represents employers and benefit plan service providers involved in investigations or audits by governmental agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and state insurance departments. He also provides representation and expert testimony in ERISA litigation.
Craig is a Fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel. Those selected as Fellows have at least twenty years of employee benefit experience and are selected on the basis of having made significant contributions to the field of employee benefits. He is one of four Fellows in North Carolina and the only one in the Triangle. He has also been recognized in The Best Lawyers in America® in the area of Employee Benefits Law for the last ten years.
Professional & Community Affiliations
- Fellow of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel
- The ESOP Association
- North Carolina Bar Association
- Member of the Tax Council , Section on Taxation, 1994-1998 and 2003-2004
- Chair of the Tax Council, Employee Benefits Section, 1995-1998
- Former President, Triangle Benefits Forum
Honors & Awards
- Best Lawyers®, Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law (1995-2021)
- Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent Rating
- North Carolina Super Lawyers, Employee Benefits/ERISA (2006, 2009, 2011-2013)
- Provided fiduciary representation for several large plans sponsored by publicly traded entities with respect to fiduciary breach claims related to plan investments; after assisting in successfully defending claims, he also negotiated resolutions with the Department of Labor and the North Carolina Department of Insurance.
- Obtained a retroactive prohibited for large corporate fiduciary involving transaction related to hundreds of millions of dollars of financial products in retirement plans.
- Assisted in obtaining relief from IRS and DOL for large corporate fiduciary facing significant penalties for hundreds of transactions involving both retirement plans and IRA's.
- Assisted a large collectively bargained plan for police officers with transition from balance forward administration to daily platform and participant direction.
- Assisted in consolidating retirement and welfare plans for an auto manufacturer with separate entities located in virtually all states.
- Assisted a large integrated health system consisting of governmental, tax-exempt and for profit entities in restructuring plans to achieve business goals.
- Represented a large medical practice in restructuring employment and compensation arrangements related to acquisition by public entity.
- Assisted in design and operation of nonqualified and equity plan for multi-national entities.
- Assisted a large insurer in restructuring the contracts for its self-insured plans and provided sales force training.
- Assisted a retirement plan advisory firm in restructuring contracts.
- Assisted in addressing compliance matters for retirement plans sponsored by tax-exempt companies.
- Assisted a client in establishing group trust and merging defined benefit plans.
- Assisted a large publicly-traded entity in consolidating welfare plans and establishing a fiduciary structure.
- Advised a multinational Fortune 500 provider of product development and integrated healthcare services on benefits-related matters in its merger with a NYSE-listed global information and technology services company, creating a leading information and tech-enabled healthcare service provider. The equity market capitalization of the joined companies was more than $17.6 billion at closing.
News & Publications
- 2021 Best Lawyers® and The Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch Recognize Largest Group of Smith Anderson Lawyers in Firm’s History08.20.2020
- Smith Anderson Leads “Best Lawyers®” Rankings with 71 Recognized Lawyers and 11 “Lawyers of the Year” - Most of Any Raleigh Law FirmThe Best Lawyers in America©, 08.20.2019
- 2017 The Best Lawyers in America© Guide Recognizes 62 Smith Anderson Lawyers – Most in the Firm’s History08.15.2016
- 2016 The Best Lawyers in America© Guide Lists 60 Smith Anderson Lawyers – Most in the Firm’s History08.17.2015
- Smith Anderson Represents General Parts International in $2.04 Billion Merger with Advance Auto Parts03.18.2014
- Smith Anderson Announces 49 of its Firm Lawyers are Named a “Best Lawyer” by The Best Lawyers in America® 201308.29.2012
- Caryn McNeill, Craig Wheaton, and Sandy Costa Present at The ESOP Association’s 2012 Tri-Chapter Regional ESOP Conference05.04.2012
- Caryn McNeill and Craig Wheaton Speak at the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools Business Officers Conference12.15.2011
- Craig Wheaton and Katherine Young Biegler Present on Legal Developments in ERISA Reporting and Disclosure05.24.2011
- Sarah W. Fox and Craig B. Wheaton Join Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan, L.L.P.02.02.2010
- Co-Presenter, Benefits Implications of Contingent Workforces, Smith Anderson's 23rd Annual Employment Law Update, October 2015
- Presenter, Benefits Implications of Contingent Workforces, Carolinas Chapter of the ESOP Association 8th Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina, August 13-14, 2015
- Presenter, Correcting Problems with Your Retirement Plan, Smith Anderson’s 22nd Annual Employment Law Update, October and November 2014