Toronto Mayor Rob Ford became the focus of a months-long police investigation after an alleged video surfaced that appears to show him smoking crack cocaine, according to court documents released Thursday.
That video is now in the hands of Toronto Police, Chief Bill Blair said in a surprise announcement on Thursday morning.
Detective Sergeant Gary Giroux, one of the Toronto Police Service’s most experienced investigators, began looking into allegations involving Mr. Ford after Gawker and The Toronto Star reported in May that a drug dealer tried to sell them a video that purportedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine.
“Detective Sergeant Giroux was detailed to investigate the matter of the Mayor Ford allegations and to substantiate any of the claims that have been made,” the document says.
The documents show that Mr. Ford appears multiple times in police surveillance of Alexander (Sandro) Lisi, his close friend and occasional driver.
The revelations are contained in police documents related to Mr. Lisi’s arrest that were released Thursday morning. The information, which is partially redacted, sheds light on links between Mr. Lisi and the mayor.
The affidavit, referred to as an Information to Obtain (ITO), is the result of an investigation, dubbed Brazen 2, that reached all the way to the mayor’s office and sent reverberations throughout the city’s corridors of power.
The information contained in the 480-page document, which investigators wrote to obtain search warrants in their case against Mr. Lisi, has not been proven in court. Taken as a whole, the ITO details numerous meetings and exchanges between the mayor and Mr. Lisi, who police refer to as a drug dealer in the document.
On June 26, for instance, police allege that Mr. Lisi met the mayor at a soccer game in Centennial Park. After speaking for a few minutes, Mr. Lisi retrieved a white plastic bag from his Range Rover loaded with unknown items and some cans of Minute Maid, and left them on the center console of Mr. Ford’s Cadillac.
On July 11, Mr. Lisi met with Rob Ford at the Esso Gas Station near Mr. Ford’s home. Mr. Lisi placed a manila envelope in the passenger side of Mr. Ford’s Cadillac while the mayor was inside the Esso. The meeting was observed by surveillance officers and caught on the gas station’s security cameras.
In addition to their many meetings, the ITO outlines a flurry of phone communication between the two men. Between Aug. 7 and Sept. 19, the mayor and Mr. Lisi contacted one another 349 times by phone.
On Mar. 28, the morning Anthony Smith was murdered, Mr. Ford and Mr. Lisi talked by phone on seven occasions. A photo later emerged in news reports showing Mr. Ford standing with Anthony Smith and two other men outside 15 Windsor Rd., a residence referred to in the document as a crack house.
The document also emphasizes heightened activity on Mr. Lisi’s cell phone after Gawker.com and the Toronto Star published stories about the crack video. The calls start on May. 16, the day the story surfaced online. The mayor called Mr. Lisi twice that afternoon. Mr. Lisi, in turn, placed several calls to Fabio Basso, who lives at the address where Mr. Ford was photographed alongside homicide victim Anthony Smith and two other men. The ITO identifies the home as a crack house. Following several calls to Mr. Basso, Mr. Lisi begins calling Mohamed Siad, one of the men who police believed was trying to sell the crack video.
Information not available to regular citizens
In one segment of the document, police allege that Mr. Ford used his staff to try and extract information from the Toronto police service about the surveillance that was being conducted on him and his friend Mr. Lisi, the police have alleged in the search warrant materials.
The police believe that on Aug. 18, Mr. Lisi and Mr. Ford, who were meeting with a third associate, observed them monitoring the meeting in a school parking lot, the affidavit states. When the surveillance officers departed the scene, “Mayor Ford was observed continuing at a high rate of speed north on Duffield Road, the last known direction of the surveillance vehicle.”
Several days later, a Detective Harris received a phone call from the mayor’s chief of staff, Earl Provost, who said that the mayor believed he was being followed and wanted more information about the vehicle that he believed was tracking his movements. When the police refused to provide the information, Mr. Provost said that the mayor was “getting angry… because he can’t give him what he wants.”
The investigators concluded that the efforts to retrieve the vehicle information formed evidence of Mayor Ford “utilizing his position and the powers of the Office of the Mayor, to obtain information not available to regular citizens.”
While the investigation resulted in four drug-related charges against Mr. Lisi, Justice Ian Nordheimer stated in court on Wednesday: “I don’t think it’s fair to say that Mr. Lisi was the target of the investigation.”
When police announced Mr. Lisi’s Oct. 1 arrest, they said it was “in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Mr. Ford refused to answer questions as he left his house Thursday morning. Carrying an armful of dress shirts, Mr. Ford asked members of the media on his driveway to leave his property. When photographers began to back up, he asked again and eventually became agitated, shouting at and shoving photographers.
“Get off my property!” the mayor shouted as he pushed one photographer on his driveway. “What don’t you understand? Get off my property, partner!”
Mr. Lisi’s lawyer, Seth Weinstein, also would not comment. “Given the outstanding charges against Mr. Lisi, it would not be appropriate at this time to respond to any inquiries about the charges or the information contained within the ITO,” he said by e-mail on Thursday.
A ‘good guy’
Mr. Lisi does not have an official role in the mayor’s office, but has been spotted in the past year serving as a driver for Mr. Ford, ferrying him to official events and fending off reporters.
After Mr. Lisi’s arrest, Mr. Ford said he was surprised at the charges, and called his friend “a good guy” and “on the straight and narrow.” When it was later revealed that Mr. Ford had written a character reference for Mr. Lisi after the 35-year-old was convicted of threatening to kill a former girlfriend, the mayor defended the letter by saying “I support a lot of people.”
Mr. Lisi is facing charges of trafficking in marijuana, possession of marijuana, possession of proceeds of crime, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. Jamshid Bahrami, an Etobicoke dry cleaner, was also charged.
‘Without fear and without favour’
Several sources with knowledge of the police inquiries told The Globe earlier this month that the Lisi arrest was part of a broader probe by police examining at least two individuals close to the mayor.
Throughout the months, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair refused to say whether the mayor was ever the subject of an investigation, or mentioned in any evidence gathered during the raids.
In a speech he gave earlier this month, however, he said police will “leave no stone unturned” in their work. “We will pursue every avenue of investigation that is required to do our jobs and to uphold the law,” he said.
“That will be done without fear and without favour. It will be done in the right way.”
Mr. Ford and his associates have been under intense scrutiny since May, when The Toronto Star and Gawker reported that a drug dealer tried to sell them a video that purportedly shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine. Mr. Ford has questioned the existence of the video, and said “I do not use crack cocaine.”
Sources have told The Globe that at least five former staffers in Ford’s office have been questioned by police about attempts to retrieve the alleged video. At least some of those questions asked by police focused on Mr. Lisi.
Since the reports surfaced, Mr. Ford has been questioned about his relationship to individuals linked to Project Traveller and Project Brazen. A photograph that surfaced alongside the video reports shows Mr. Ford posing with Mohammad Khattak and Monir Kasim, two of the men arrested in Project Traveller. A fourth man in the photo, Anthony Smith, was shot and killed outside a downtown Toronto nightclub in March.
The photo was taken in front of an Etobicoke home that has been linked to drug activity. Two of the home’s residents, Fabio Basso (who sources told The Globe was “close” with the mayor in high school), and Elena Johnson have a criminal history.
Other associates of the mayor’s have raised questions, too. Earlier this month, The Globe reported that Mr. Ford had recruited Payman Aboodowleh, a man with a history of violent crimes, to coach his former high school football team.
In August, The Globe reported that the Mayor made an after-hours visit to a jail in March, where he sought a meeting with then-inmate Bruno Bellissimo. Mr. Bellissimo was awaiting trial on assault charges at the time, and, according to sources, has a history of drug activity.
With a report from Kaleigh Rogers
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