Ford's lawyer, Toronto Police in war of words over alleged crack video

The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor heads to his vehicle after leaving his house in Etobicoke on November 01, 2013, followed by two unidentified men believed to be working with the Mayor. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

In an aggressive new stand, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s lawyer is challenging Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to release the video that allegedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine, saying it is impossible to determine what the substance is while levelling accusations that the police have a “political agenda.”

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The unexpected response to the chief’s bombshell announcement that officers had recovered the video came as Mr. Ford’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, acknowledged the mayor had shown “bad judgment” in the past, though he did not directly address the intensifying controversy.

Lawyer Dennis Morris, who blanketed media outlets Friday morning, said the mayor wants the recording to be aired so Torontonians can make their own conclusions.

“He’s happy that this thing is going to come to a conclusion in the sense that there is a video and he wants it seen by the public as soon as possible,” Mr. Morris said in an interview.

Mr. Morris accused the police of having a “political agenda,” saying Chief Blair had damned the mayor by leading the public to believe that the video shows him smoking crack. Mr. Morris said the substance could have been tobacco or marijuana.

“In the court of public opinion, by virtue of Chief Blair indicating he’d seen the video, my client has been found guilty and this is without having an opportunity to defend himself by viewing the video,” Mr. Morris said.

“He hasn’t faced any charges. He’s not going to face any charges and the Chief of Police, I suggest, could never under oath indicate that he’s seen Mayor Ford smoke crack cocaine on a video.”

Police spokesman Mark Pugash fired back at the suggestions.

“What I think we’re seeing here is the beginning of what will be a concerted attack on the investigation, the investigators and the chief. That doesn’t surprise me at all. We will respond and explain how we are abiding by the rule of law in what we’re doing,” he said.

Mr. Ford’s friend, Alessandro Lisi, who has been charged with extortion in relation to “efforts to retrieve a recording,” was released on $5,000 bail after a brief court appearance Friday morning.

Doug Ford echoed the challenge to the chief, telling AM640 that he would like to see the video released by police “and let the people judge for themselves.” He also accused Chief Blair of “politicking.”

“Rob hasn’t been charged with anything. He hasn’t broken the law and he’s been convicted. He’s been convicted by the media,” Doug Ford told the radio station, adding he didn’t think it was appropriate for the police chief to comment on evidence in a case before the courts.

When asked if the mayor would consider resigning or temporarily stepping down, Councillor Ford said he couldn’t comment. “We’re going to sit down and have a chat. We’ll see how it goes and we’re going to continue working hard for the taxpayers of Toronto.”

Councillor Ford also told host John Oakley that his brother may have made some mistakes. “Like we all have, Johnny, over the years, we use bad judgment sometimes,” he said. “Yes, Rob’s probably used bad judgment sometimes but I’m just concerned politics are playing a big part in this.”

Chief Blair revealed Thursday that police computer technicians had on Tuesday recovered a video showing the mayor that is consistent with a recording first reported by Gawker and the Toronto Star in May. The city’s top cop also said he had viewed the recording and was “disappointed” by what he saw.

Chief Blair said he would not release the video because it relates to the extortion case against Mr. Lisi.

Mr. Morris called it “fortuitous in timing” that police charged Mr. Lisi before announcing that the recording had been recovered, allowing them to say they would not release it because is evidence in an ongoing court case.

He called the tactic a “convenient” attempt to “shield” the video, saying: “In my eyes, it’s a political agenda.”

Mr. Pugash said the police were following the law in collecting evidence and putting it before the courts. “The courts decide what gets released. That happened in textbook fashion with the multi-hundred page document that was released yesterday and there will be more information coming out in the coming weeks.”

Mr. Pugash also said that before Chief Blair held his press conference on Thursday, he “sought and took advice from two very experienced and distinguished lawyers. He did his due diligence.”

Detective Sergeant Gary Giroux, a veteran homicide investigator who was assigned to look into the video allegations in May, said on Friday that he invited Mr. Ford to speak with him in “the last few days” and intends to keep pursuing an interview.

“I’ve made the request and I’m going to continue to do so,” he told reporters.

In court Friday, Mr. Lisi’s father, Antonio, served as his surety. The 35-year-old’s bail conditions prohibit him from possessing illegal narcotics and owning more than one cellphone.

Mr. Lisi is required to abstain from communicating with Mohamed Siad, the man who police believe was trying to sell the video, or Liban Siyad, one of the accused in Project Traveller, a police crackdown on drugs and street gangs in Etobicoke that led to dozens of arrests in mid-June. Mr. Lisi is also prohibited from communicating with Elena Johnson and Fabio Basso, whose home serves as the backdrop of the photograph of Mr. Ford with murder victim Anthony Smith that was circulated alongside the video.

Mr. Lisi left the courthouse without answering reporters’ questions. His lawyers spoke with journalists, but did not provide details on the extortion charge or on the police affidavit released on Thursday.

“It’s been very difficult for him. He’s been living under a spotlight that quite frankly is extraordinary and quite frankly I’ve never seen before. And this is obviously very difficult,” said lawyer Seth Weinstein.

Chief Blair’s revelation stunned the city and reverberated right up to Toronto’s highest positions of power. It came less than two hours after the release of a startling 480-page police document which outlines in painstaking detail the frequency of unusual meetings and suspicious transactions between the mayor Mr. Lisi and the lengths police went to investigate the mayor.

“I wish I could come out and defend myself,” Mr. Ford said Thursday afternoon outside his office. “Unfortunately I can’t because it’s before the courts. That’s all I can say.” In the past, the mayor has questioned the existence of the video, and said that he does not smoke crack cocaine.

Although the mayor would not answer questions about Mr. Lisi on Thursday, he has, in the past, called his friend “a good guy,” and “on the straight and narrow.”

The latest charge against Mr. Lisi comes on top of a number of drug charges he already faces from an Oct. 1 takedown at an Etobicoke plaza. He was charged then with trafficking in marijuana, possession of marijuana, possession of proceeds of crime, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.

In the five months of police surveillance on Mr. Lisi and the mayor, investigators outlined hundreds of calls, and dozens of meetings between the two men in places ranging from high-school parking lots and secluded parks, to restaurants and gas stations.

The documents also outline a flurry of telephone calls and text messages by Mr. Lisi around the time the first reports of the alleged crack cocaine video emerged on Gawker.com and the Toronto Star.

Within an hour of the publication of the May 16 Gawker report, which said that drug dealers offered to sell the alleged crack video, Mr. Lisi made a phone call to Mr. Basso. The next day, he called Mr. Basso another six times. He also called Mr. Siad three times. Later that day, Mr. Lisi and the mayor exchanged a number of phone calls.

Mr. Lisi and David Price, the mayor’s director of operations and a long-time family friend, exchanged almost 31 calls or texts between mid-March and the end of June, police say, with the majority of those calls placed the day after the Gawker report was released. As of June, police began interviewing key members of the mayor’s office.

In the documents, a number of his staffers say they had concerns about Mr. Lisi. One of the former staffers, Chris Fickel, told police he had heard that Mr. Lisi was providing the mayor with marijuana and “possibly cocaine.”

Meanwhile, radio station Newstalk 1010, home of the Ford brothers’ two-hour Sunday afternoon talk show The City, says this weekend’s edition is still going ahead as scheduled. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s status quo,” said Mike Bendixen, the station’s program director. “Nothing’s changed for us. The airtime on Sundays is there for them to fill it. So unless I hear otherwise, that is how we will proceed.”

Mr. Bendixen added that there has been no discussion at the station about altering its programming in the wake of Thursday’s revelations.

Rob and Doug Ford took a one-week hiatus from The City last May after the initial news reports broke about the existence of a video that appeared to show the mayor smoking crack cocaine. But the brothers were back on air the following week, unbowed.

With a report from Kaleigh Rogers

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