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Tobacco Exec Charged With Smuggling

March 26, 1999

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) _ A tobacco company executive has admitted to helping smugglers sell nearly $700 million worth of cigarettes on the Canadian black market.

Leslie Thompson, a former R.J. Reynolds executive, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to money laundering charges Thursday.

He could face up to seven years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set, U.S. Attorney Thomas Maroney said.

Thompson, 51, of Tecumseh, Ontario, was the first tobacco industry executive charged in the federal government’s four-year investigation into tobacco and alcohol smuggling through the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in northern New York.

Prosecutors said Thompson arranged to have the company’s Canadian-brand cigarettes, Export A’s, exported to smugglers in the United States.

Three Niagara Falls men _ Larry V. Miller and Lewis and Robert Tavano _ were eventually convicted of masterminding the smuggling operation.

The smugglers avoided paying excise taxes to the United States by telling customs agents that the Canadian cigarettes they were carrying were being brought into the country for export to Russia. Instead, they were shipped to the St. Regis reservation and smuggled across the St. Lawrence River back into Canada, thus cheating the Canadian government of taxes as well.

Nineteen people already have been convicted in the case and are awaiting sentencing. In December, Northern Brands International, an R.J. Reynolds subsidiary, admitted helping the smugglers and paid $15 million in fines and forfeitures.

Thompson was placed on leave after the company began an internal investigation into Northern Brands, and Adam Bryan-Brown, a Reynolds spokesman, said the allegations against Thompson run ``completely contrary″ to corporate policy.

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