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83-year-old former marathon director sentenced after stealing funds

The organizer of the Portland Marathon claimed to use funds for local charities, but some of that money helped pay for a car and other luxuries.
83-year-old former marathon director sentenced after stealing funds
Posted at 8:59 AM, Sep 14, 2023

An 83-year-old man who ran the Portland (Oregon) Marathon for decades has been sentenced for evading taxes on money he stole from the charitable organization that backs the race. 

Lester V. Smith received a sentence of three years of probation, which includes eight months of home confinement. 

Prosecutors said Smith was the president of Portland Marathon Inc. for 35 years and was responsible for the charitable organization that backs the race. As the marathon's president, he was solely responsible for approving expenses from the marathon's bank account. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Smith had unauthorized funds transferred into his own personal checking account and used the marathon's bank account to pay his credit card bills. 

Prosecutors added that Smith used the marathon's bank account to pay for a $60,000 Infiniti SUV and used funds for home remodeling projects, shopping sprees and other services. 

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He pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to evade and defeat income taxes. As part of the plea deal, wire fraud charges were dropped. Smith has been ordered to pay $411,279 to the IRS after underreporting $1.2 million of taxable income to the IRS. 

The convictions came following a yearslong investigation. 

As marathon director, Smith claimed to promote other regional charitable causes. 

"Your running of our event allows us to make contributions and grants to other non-profits, service clubs, school athletic activities and school athletic events," Smith wrote in a press release in 2016.

In 2018, the board of Portland Marathon Inc. voted to dissolve and form a new organization to run the marathon. That year's marathon was canceled as a result. 

"Upon taking oversight responsibility, we made diligent efforts to move the Portland Marathon organization in a positive direction and resolve past challenges. Unfortunately, the state of the organization has proved too fragile. We concluded that the only responsible choice is to dissolve the organization and distribute the remaining funds to charitable organizations," the board wrote in a 2018 open letter published by the Oregonian. 

Organizers were able to bring back the race and by 2022 had over 7,000 participants split between the event's marathon and half marathon. 

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