Toronto Police have interviewed at least five former staffers in Rob Ford's office about attempts to retrieve an alleged video appearing to show the mayor smoking drugs, according to sources close to the mayor’s office.
Some of their questions focused on a man named Alessandro Lisi, long known to staffers only by the name Sandro, a regular late-night companion of the mayor's who was known to ferry him to events and, on one occasion, run interference with reporters.
“I have no comment to make on behalf of him [Mr. Lisi] or his family,” said Mr. Lisi's lawyer Domenic Basile.
“I can't confirm to you that my client is under police investigation, only the police can do that.”
The mayor’s office did not reply to requests for comment.
“Sandro” Lisi, 35, has no official role at the mayor's office.
Some Ford staffers became aware of Mr. Lisi in February, when he drove the mayor to the Garrison Ball in his Range Rover. Also present that night in the Rover was Bruno Bellissimo, whom the Globe has identified as a childhood friend of the mayor.
A Globe story last week revealed that in March, Mr. Ford made an after-hours visit to a west-end jail, attempting to visit an inmate named Bruno Bellissimo.
Mr. Bellissimo, 43, who was awaiting trial on charges of assaulting his parents, was described by several sources as having a longtime history with drugs.
The mayor has thus far declined to explain why he made the visit to Toronto West Detention Centre, or what his relationship is with Mr. Bellissimo.
In the months since the Garrison Ball, Mr. Lisi has been a fixture at Mr. Ford's side during late-night events, according to one former staffer. Mr. Ford always rejected staff demands that he hire a driver, but he allowed Mr. Lisi to drive him around.
Mr. Lisi appeared beside the mayor the morning after the Toronto Star and Gawker.com published allegations about the existence of a video showing Mr. Ford smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine.
That morning, May 17, two men in sunglasses appeared with the mayor, running interference with the pack of reporters crowding around his Edenbridge Drive home.
As reporters tried to get a response from the mayor emerging from his house, and later when he popped into his neighbourhood Tim Horton's, the two men blocked journalists with bodies and vehicles.
One of those men was identified as David Price, a longtime friend of the Ford family and a relatively new staffer in the mayor's office.
Some people in the mayor's office weren't sure who the man in the Range Rover was that day, a source told the Globe. Only later did they learn it was Mr. Lisi.
That same day, Mr. Price made independent inquiries as to the whereabouts of the alleged video, according to a source.
When he reported back to Chief of Staff Mark Towhey that he'd heard an address where the video could be located and that it may have been involved in a recent Toronto homicide, Mr. Towhey asked him to stop his search. Mr. Towhey, a former military man, then alerted the police. Both he and Mr. Price were interviewed.
Mr. Towhey was fired days later.
Police had already heard about the alleged video. A source familiar with Project Traveller, a year-long investigation into drugs and gangs that centred around the Dixon Road high-rises a few blocks west of the Lisi residence, told the Globe that police became aware of the alleged video before it surfaced in published reports.
At the same time one of his staffers was soliciting tips about the alleged video, Mr. Ford was publicly calling claims of its existence "ridiculous."
One week later he said: “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine” and “I can't comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist.”
However, Toronto Police questioned former mayoral staffers about attempts by Mr. Price and Mr. Lisi to retrieve the alleged video, and investigators have asked questions about Mr. Lisi in those interviews, according to people who were present.
The license plate on the Range Rover driven by Mr. Lisi has since changed. Most days it sits outside his parents' home in Etobicoke's upscale Golfwood Heights neighbourhood.
Residents here have talked amongst themselves about the mayor's frequent visits to the Lisi house on Madill St.
One resident, who did not want to be named, said he has witnessed Mr. Ford visit the Lisi home three or four nights in a row, generally after 10 p.m.
Another source, who said that Mr. Ford is on the street at least once a week, added that, when the mayor first started making frequent visits to the street, he told neighbours he was there to see his “friend Sandy”.
With files from Elizabeth Church, Ann Hui, Greg McArthur, Shannon Kari and Colin Freeze