A trove of police wiretap evidence replete with allegations of extortion attempts, threats and boasts of numerous photographs of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford using illegal drugs is revealing the extent to which the mayor’s behaviour exposed his public office to criminal elements.
In one instance detailed in newly released information from a nearly 500-page police affidavit, Toronto police surveillance of the Dixon City Bloods gang picks up talk in one telephone conversation in which two alleged gang members discuss how they were offered a car and $5,000 for a video that they believed could fetch $150,000 from the media. Police say in the document they believe that offer for the video was made by Mr. Ford.
In a wiretap one month later of several telephones, gang members discuss the mayor’s missing cellphone, which Mr. Ford lost while at a suspected crack house on April 20. The mayor’s friend and then-occasional driver, Alexander Lisi, retrieved the cell from an alleged gang member in exchange for an unspecified amount of marijuana, the police information alleges.
The allegations in the police affidavit have not been tested in court, and the mayor does not face criminal charges. But for more than a month, details from the unusually lengthy police document – submitted to court to obtain search warrants in a drug case involving Mr. Lisi – have rocked city hall and drawn international media attention.
Revelations of the mayor’s behaviour, ranging from his admission to crack use to public intoxication and allegations of sexual harassment, have already prompted city councillors to strip Mr. Ford of most of his mayoral powers and slash his office budget. The latest details of the mayor’s involvement with a gang accused of drug dealing and gun running has several councillors renewing their calls for the mayor to step aside.
The police document, now almost entirely uncensored, shows the mayor’s drug use opened him up to potential blackmail and enmeshed people in his office in the underworld, as they attempted to retrieve his cellphone and a video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine.
Some municipal politicians are also asking Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair for a full account to the public of how the force has handled its months-long investigation of the mayor.
“They [the police] need to explain how they have managed this file, what steps they have taken and why. The public deserves an explanation for that,” said Councillor Adam Vaughan, a former member of the police board.
Mr. Ford did not stop to answer questions from the media at city hall about the new allegations on Wednesday, including one wiretap that refers to him using “hezza,” slang for heroin. When asked if he had ever done heroin, the mayor laughed.
On Wednesday afternoon, before the wiretap information was released, Mr. Ford’s lawyer, Dennis Morris, met with him in his office.
Councillor Doug Ford said his brother is “doing great.”
“He is feeling better than he ever has,” he told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday evening. Councillor Ford added that the mayor is looking toward next fall’s municipal election.
Unbeknownst to Rob Ford or the Dixon City Bloods, Toronto police had been monitoring the gang’s phone communications for a month when the mayor and Mr. Lisi stepped into the police surveillance on April 20. The wiretap monitoring was part of a year-long guns-and-drugs probe called Project Traveller, which focused on Toronto, Windsor and Alberta.
The gang’s hub was six condo towers just south of a beige brick bungalow on Windsor Road, which police allege is a crack house. The bungalow is where the video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine was filmed in February, police say. It is where the mayor posed for a photo with three alleged members of the Dixon gang, one of whom, Anthony Smith, was shot dead outside a downtown Toronto nightclub in March. And it is where the mayor’s cellphone disappeared in April.
Mr. Ford was “freaking out” about his missing phone, the police document indicates. Mr. Lisi knew members of the Dixon City Bloods gang had it. Mr. Lisi, according to phone calls intercepted by Toronto police, threatened that the mayor would put heat on the Dixon neighbourhood if he did not get his phone back. The threat angered the gang, who bragged about having tons of photos of the mayor using illegal drugs. The gang warned it would not tolerate threats.
Lawyers for several media organizations, including The Globe and Mail, have been pressing for the release of the police affidavit. Although the mayor’s alleged involvement with drugs and gangs was caught on wiretaps in April, Toronto police did not begin an investigation of the mayor and Mr. Lisi until mid-May, when U.S. website Gawker and the Toronto Star revealed drug dealers wanted to sell them a video of the mayor allegedly using crack cocaine.
The video, which police allege was filmed in February, has not surfaced publicly. Police Chief Blair revealed on Oct. 31 that police recovered a copy from a computer seized during the Project Traveller raids. A second video was also recovered.
The police investigation is ongoing, a spokesman has said. Chief Blair said the responsibility of the force is to gather evidence and place it before the courts.
“I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for police to comment on the evidence,” he told CP24.
The mayor’s missing cellphone was a topic of conversation among his staff. Mr. Ford told staff members he had lost the phone at an April 20 clean-up event at a west Toronto park. Another topic in the mayor’s office after news of the Ford video became public in May was the murder of Mr. Smith.
The newly released details state that although Toronto police were initially interested in whether the Ford video might have been connected to Mr. Smith’s death, investigators have ruled out that the two events are related.
Police have charged Mr. Lisi, 35, with extortion in connection to the Ford video. Mr. Lisi also faces charges of trafficking marijuana, possession of marijuana, possession of proceeds of crime, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who will chair his first executive meeting Thursday replacing the mayor, said it is important that the public know the city is moving on with its business. The actions taken two weeks ago that shifted most of Mr. Ford's staff and authority to the Deputy Mayor have "immunized" the city from these events, he said.
"Two weeks ago this disclosure would have mattered," he told The Globe and Mail. "I don't think it does anymore. This is no longer about government at city hall. This is about a man.
"The office he holds has been removed from the core of council's business," he said. "What does this mean for the government of the City of Toronto? Frankly, it doesn't mean anything much at all. "
Mr. Kelly said questions about how the police have approached the investigation are best handled by the police services board.
Councillor Joe Mihevc said he hopes the police are reviewing the allegations surrounding Mr. Ford’s attempts to obtain the video.
“The mayor can’t come out and say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Saying I’m sorry now means taking full responsibility,” Mr. Mihevc said. “This man needs help. He needs a lot of help”
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said the latest allegations are another example that the mayor has not been truthful with the public.
“I think the fact that he hasn’t told the truth that he is involved with the worst gangs in the city and he is involved in very, very bad drugs, it’s the saddest commentary of a mayor you could ever make,” said Mr. Minnan-Wong, a former ally of the mayor.
With a report from Greg McArthur