The robo-calls fraudster who hid behind the alias “Pierre Poutine” had toyed with a scheme to dial Guelph, Ont., voters in the middle of the night with a fake message from the local Liberal campaign.
This early hours call designed to turn voters against Liberal candidate Frank Valeriote was recorded but never sent, new court filings show.
This aborted call campaign had been scheduled to wake voters in the southwestern Ontario riding, a source close to Elections Canada said.
Allan Mathews, the Elections Canada investigator looking into fraudulent robo-calls that sought to suppress the vote in Guelph during the 2011 federal ballot, has filed more documents in court detailing new findings.
The unknown operative also set up a fake caller ID that would have shown middle-of-the-night robo-calls as coming from Mr. Valeriote’s campaign office at 519-837-2651.
Liberals across a number of ridings have complained of phony calls made during the campaign at odd hours – such as late at night – claiming to represent the Liberal Party.
Mr. Valeriote held on to his Guelph seat in the May 2, 2011, election, winning by a big margin.
According to the new filings, Matt Meier, the CEO of the Alberta firm used to make the robo-calls, also told Elections Canada that “Pierre” initially telephoned him directly on his unlisted office extension and asked for him by name when setting up his robo-calling account.
“Pierre referred to knowing someone in the Conservative Party,” Mr. Mathews said of the call Mr. Meier received at RackNine. “In Meier’s view, these facts mean someone must have given Pierre his contact information.”
Mr. Meier told Elections Canada his contract with the Conservative Party during the 2011 election campaign stipulated he would “not provide his calling service to other parties.”
The RackNine CEO told the elections watchdog all his clients learn about his service through candidates, campaign managers, party staff or party activists and organizers.
Elections Canada has alleged in past court filings that someone connected to the local Conservative campaign in Guelph, with the help of a disposable cell phone, engineered a scheme to dial voters of rival parties and tell them, falsely, that their polling station had been changed.
In the latest court filing, Mr. Mathews reports that the unknown operative uploaded 6,738 telephone numbers to the RackNine system. These were primarily 519 area code numbers, the main code for Guelph.
He also said that RackNine records show that just after 10 a.m. ET on election day, May 2, 2011, the company made 7,676 calls (including repeat dials) for which the calling number, or caller ID, was displayed as 450-760-7746. That is the number of the pre-paid cell phone Mr. Mathews has previously established was registered to the improbably named Pierre Poutine.
The cost for these May 2, 2011, calls was $162.10, Elections Canada said in court filings.
Elections Canada’s Mr. Mathews says that the political operative, who alternately used the names Pierre Poutine or Pierre Jones, had uploaded the unused Liberal message to computers at RackNine. But then he deleted it.
“I listened to the second message. It had the appearance of being in support of Frank Valeriote’s [Liberal]campaign in Guelph,” Mr. Mathews wrote in a court filing.
“The voice sounded to me as though [it were]computer generated rather than a script read by a person.”
Mr. Meier retrieved this message from his company’s computers for Mr. Mathews even though the client known to his firm as Pierre Jones had erased the recording, court filings say.
Elections Canada has previously indicated RackNine itself is not under investigation.
RackNine records show that “Pierre,” who was assigned client ID # 93, set up three caller ID phone numbers that he could chose to appear on the call displays of those receiving robo-calls.
These included the 450 area code number linked to Pierre Poutine’s disposable cell phone – which was used as the return number for the robo-calls.
Other numbers that were set up as caller ID but not used included the Guelph Liberal campaign office and an out-of-service 1-800 number that was given for Elections Canada in the text of the misleading robo-call messages transmitted to Guelph residents.
Separately, Elections Canada’s chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, is now scheduled to appear before MPs on March 29 to offer more details on widespread complaints he’s received about misleading or fake calls made to voters during the last election – calls that go far beyond Guelph.
The election watchdog said on March 16 it has received 700 specific complaints about phony dialing during the 2011 ballot in recent weeks.
March 29 is also budget day in Ottawa, which means most of the Parliamentary press gallery will be in a lockup digesting Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s fiscal plan.
The latest court filings by Elections Canada also show that the Marty Burke Conservative campaign in Guelph ordered a total of 10 phone campaigns from RackNine during the writ period. These dialed voters between March 31, 2011, and May 2, 2011.
RackNine told investigators that Mr. Burke’s deputy campaign manager, Andrew Prescott, was the contact person for the 10 dial-outs and that he also paid for them. Mr. Prescott has recently explained that he paid for legitimate RackNine robo-calls out of his own pocket.
Mr. Mathews said he doesn’t know whether the existence of a busy relationship between RackNine and the Burke campaign has any bearing on his investigation, but noted none of the call campaigns were listed as an electoral expense on campaign records.
Mr. Mathews made court filings in recent months to gain access to records held by PayPal, the Internet-based payment system that the operative behind Pierre Poutine used to pay for his RackNine dialing campaign.
Records provided by RackNine show that the unknown robo-caller paid using the name Pierre Jones and listed his address as 54 Lajoie Nord in Joliette, Que.
RackNine also told Elections Canada that the operative had identified himself as a University of Ottawa student studying by correspondence and located in Joliette.
The University of Ottawa informed investigators it has no record of a student named Pierre Jones and Mr. Mathews said in court filings that he could find nobody living at the Joliette address named Pierre Jones.
“It appears the name Pierre Jones, like Pierre Poutine, is false,” he said.
Robo-calls by the numbers
$162.10:How much it cost “Pierre Poutine” AKA “Pierre Jones” to launch the fraudulent robo-calls aimed at Guelph voters. The Alberta firm RackNine that was used to make the automated calls can make 200,000 calls an hour at 1.9 cents a call, court filings say.
6,738: The total number of phone numbers targeted on May 2, 2011 by the “Poutine” robo-calls. This includes a call to the unknown operative’s own cellphone. Most carried the 519 area code that is used by many numbers in Guelph.
7,676: The total number of attempted robo-calls (include repeated calls to the same number) made on May 2, 2011 by “Pierre Poutine.” This includes calls that did not go through.
10: The number of robo-call dialling campaigns from RackNine to electors in Guelph on behalf of the “Marty Burke Campaign.” Mr. Burke was the Conservative candidate for Guelph, and RackNine’s contact for these phone campaigns was deputy campaign manager Andrew Prescott. The 10 sets of calls were made between March 31 and May 2, 2011. The Burke campaign did not list these calls as expenses.