Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his councillor brother Doug Ford helped one of the customers of their family business to lobby the city’s highest ranking bureaucrat for a special property tax break and repeatedly intervened with city staff without disclosing the company had a commercial relationship with the Ford family, a Globe and Mail investigation has found.
In the months after the mayor and Councillor Ford took office in 2010 they intervened for Apollo Health and Beauty Care, a soap and shampoo company that unsuccessfully urged City Manager Joe Pennachetti to hand it a generous property tax grant. Apollo’s proposal failed when Mr. Pennachetti refused to make an exception for the company, but a cache of e-mails, letters and memorandums obtained by The Globe under the Freedom of Information Act show a pattern of intervention by the Fords on Apollo’s behalf that extend to a variety of municipal issues, from stop-sign designations to building permits.
The Ford family’s business, Deco Labels and Tags Inc., has manufactured labels for Apollo, off and on, for about a dozen years, but this was not disclosed to six senior civil servants who detailed, in interviews, how the mayor and Councillor Ford inserted themselves into Apollo-related discussions.
“In terms of the mayor requesting I meet with a resident or a business, this is the case where I spent the most time of any,” said Mr. Pennachetti, referring to his meetings concerning Apollo’s efforts to secure a tax grant, and the Fords’ role in arranging those discussions.
The city manager met with representatives from Apollo at least three times in the spring of 2011, the records show. Mr. Pennachetti also was told by the mayor, but declined, to attend a meeting at Apollo’s factory when city inspectors were investigating Apollo’s alleged role in a sewage spill in the summer of 2012.
Asked if he was ever told Apollo was a client of the Ford family company, Mr. Pennachetti said: “I had no idea.”
Mr. Pennachetti said he never felt pressured by the Fords to break from city policy. But he said that had he known about Apollo’s relationship with Deco he may not have attended the meetings, and that the Fords should have provided that information. “If they were a client, I think they should have declared it,” he said.
Councillor Ford called it “absolutely ridiculous” to suggest Apollo got special treatment. Deco does business with “thousands” of companies, he said in an interview, arguing its business ties with Apollo had nothing to do with the brothers’ efforts to help the firm. “That doesn’t make two hoots of a difference,” he said.
The councillor refused to answer questions about Deco’s business with Apollo and the mayor did not respond to questions given to his chief of staff before he recently went on leave.
Richard Wachsberg, the co-owner and chairman of Apollo, said his company never received special treatment or access because of the Fords. “Nobody asked them to be involved and it has never been contributive or positive in my opinion,” he said.
The Apollo chairman said he does not know how the Fords came to involve themselves in issues concerning his firm, and that the issue of disclosure of the relationship between his company and Deco is one for politicians to address, not him.
Though Apollo is not a household name, its soaps and shampoos can be found around the world on the shelves of department stores and drug stores as private-label or in-store brands. Its vast product lineup requires many types of labels – business that Apollo has typically dispersed among a handful of label suppliers in Ontario.
But after the Fords came to power, Deco’s business with Apollo grew, The Globe and Mail has learned. In late 2011, other label manufacturers that Apollo had been using were informed that a portion of that work was being shifted to Deco, three label industry sources said in interviews. Estimates on how much that business was worth varied but the sources agreed that, at a minimum, it amounted to about $1-million a year for Deco.
In an interview, Mr. Wachsberg said that the Fords’ advocacy on behalf of his company played no role in Apollo’s choice of label manufacturer. He declined to detail how much business his company has given Deco since the Fords came to power, except to say “Deco has won business and lost business in the past two years.”