Rogue employee or Big Tobacco fall guy? Les Thompson tells tales from the vortex of the Canadian smuggling scandal.

Les Thompson was a self-made man. He grew up poor in a small town in Ontario and got no further than high school. Still, he fashioned a nice career in the cigarette business, rising through the ranks at the Canadian arm of R.J. Reynolds.

In the early 1990s, he took on a big and risky assignment: helping the company gain a foothold in Canada’s exploding market for contraband cigarettes. As a regional field manager for RJR-MacDonald Inc., he supplied cigarettes to U.S. distributors, who had them smuggled back into Canada across the St. Lawrence River to avoid Canadian taxes.

With Thompson’s help, the company amassed more than $600 million in revenue and more than $100 million in profit from contraband sales, Canadian authorities have alleged.

Thompson’s superiors rewarded him with a promotion and lavish praise. Then, some of the distributors were arrested. And they began pointing fingers at him.

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