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Former Portland Marathon president accused of stealing $1M from organization

Les Smith served as president and event director for the Portland Marathon for nearly 35 years. Court documents allege he stole more than $1 million.
Credit: KGW
Les Smith speaks to a KGW reporter about the Portland Marathon in 2017.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal grand jury has indicted the former president and event director of the Portland Marathon for defrauding the nonprofit organization that plans and operates the race out of more than $1 million. 

Lester "Les" Smith, 80, has been charged with wire fraud and tax evasion. The indictment comes four years after a settlement with the Oregon Department of Justice over alleged conflicts of interest and improper loans. 

According to court documents, from January 2012 until at least April 2018, Smith is accused of making or directing others to transfer money from Portland Marathon Inc.'s (PMI) bank account to his personal checking account. Smith also paid personal credit cards with PMI money and wrote checks from PMI to himself, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon said.

In his role, Smith had sole authority to approve expenses from the organization's bank account, the U.S. Attorney said. 

Smith is alleged to have used marathon funds to buy a $60,000 Infinity SUV, and used stolen money to remodel his home and buy luxury items on expensive shopping sprees. The indictment alleges Smith stole more than $1 million from PMI. 

He also "substantially underreported his taxable income" for at least four different tax years, the U.S. Attorney's office said. 

He faces up to 20 years for the wire fraud charge and five years for the tax evasion charge. His first court appearance is scheduled for March 10. 

RELATED: Only one qualified candidate applied to produce 2018 Portland Marathon

This is not Smith's first legal trouble related to the Portland Marathon. In an investigation that spanned from 2017 to 2018, the Oregon Department of Justice found that Smith illegally loaned himself and his companies money from the marathon coffers, overpaid executives and contracted his own for-profit company to oversee the race. 

As part of the 2018 settlement, the Oregon DOJ ordered Smith to pay $865,000 to the Portland Marathon; he was also barred from working at any charitable organization, other foot races, or as a lawyer in Oregon. He was also ordered to dissolve his for-profit company, Next Events. 

RELATED: City on Portland Marathon: 'Nothing is normal when it comes to this event'

He previously worked as a lawyer in Portland and was a founding partner of the downtown Portland law firm Bullard Law. A spokesperson told KGW in 2018 Smith is no longer affiliated with the firm. 

The city of Portland encountered a number of issues with the race under Smith's leadership, though none are believed to have involved anything criminal. In 2016, the marathon sent runners an extra half-mile and awarded the winner’s trophy to the wrong person. In 2017, the city initially denied an event permit for the Portland Marathon, citing lack of police officers available for the event’s original route, and insufficient communications from marathon organizers.

The Portland Marathon has since moved under new leadership.

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