Rob Ford penned a character reference for his assistant football coach’s sentencing for dangerous driving and assaulting a police officer, court documents reveal, marking at least the third time he has written a letter of support for a convict while in public office.
The letter, composed on behalf of Payman Aboodowleh in 2009, confirms Mr. Ford knew of the volunteer coach’s violent history when he invited him to work with high-school athletes. As with his other letters, Mr. Ford’s acclamation of Mr. Aboodowleh was written on official City of Toronto stationery, sparking concern from a veteran Ontario Court judge who questioned whether the then-councillor may have misused his position of authority.
Asked on Thursday about the character reference he provided for his assistant coach, the Toronto mayor told CP24: “I wrote a lot of reference letters for people that I know. I don’t recall which person this is. I have no idea of what you are referring to now.”
Mr. Ford, who is seeking re-election, has known Mr. Aboodowleh for decades. The mayor offered no indication that he plans to more carefully consider for whom he writes reference letters.
“Obviously when people come in here every day, when I go to people’s houses, when I return phone calls, I don’t say have you ever been charged? Are you a criminal?” Mr. Ford told CP24. “My job is to get the job done and to get the problem resolved and that’s what I do and I think that I’ve proven myself for the last 14 years.”
Ontario’s Attorney-General admonished the mayor in October for writing a character reference for Alessandro Lisi’s sentencing for threatening to kill a former girlfriend. Mr. Ford also provided a reference for tow-truck operator Douglas Sedgewick, convicted of murder in the 1980s. And in 2007, he testified at the sentencing of a young man who had played for the high school football team that Mr. Ford used to coach. Bryan Young, the former player, pointed a sawed-off shotgun at a taxi driver and robbed him and later pleaded guilty to armed robbery.
Mr. Lisi, sentenced in June of last year, is facing drug and extortion charges as a result of a continuing police probe that involved months of surveillance of the mayor. The investigation began after reports surfaced in May of a video allegedly showing the mayor smoking crack cocaine. Mr. Ford, who has admitted to buying and using illegal drugs, has not been charged.
The Globe and Mail reported in October that Toronto’s Catholic school board was unaware of Mr. Aboodowleh’s criminal history when he joined Mr. Ford’s football coaching staff at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. It was unclear then whether the mayor – head coach of the senior football team until the board ousted him last year – knew about his assistant coach’s run-ins with the law.
Court transcripts of Mr. Aboodowleh’s sentencing on Aug. 21, 2009, reveal the mayor was cognizant of his assistant coach’s criminal troubles. The politician’s character reference, presented in court by Mr. Aboodowleh’s lawyer, immediately raised concerns for Mr. Justice Lloyd Budzinski.
“I always question the use of a character letter, where the letter is on the political letterhead of an individual,” Judge Budzinski told Mr. Aboodowleh’s lawyer. “I am not sure whether Mr. Ford, when he is writing me a letter here about the good character of this person, is speaking on behalf of the City of Toronto or speaking on his personal belief … I feel that it is using a source of authority that may be inappropriate.”
On the suggestion of the judge, Mr. Aboodowleh’s lawyer retracted the letter and it was not entered as an exhibit.
Federally, politicians are not allowed to send reference letters to courts and regulatory tribunals. Conservative MP John Duncan resigned from his cabinet position last year after he sent a character reference to a federal Tax Court judge.
The city’s rules are less clear. Toronto’s integrity commissioner declined in December to investigate the mayor’s behaviour, telling council that city hall’s code of conduct is “aspirational in nature.” The code of conduct warns council members against improperly using the influence of their office, but it does not specifically address character references.
The mayor, who is seeking re-election, has known Mr. Aboodowleh for decades. Mr. Aboodowleh, 38, grew up in the west Toronto neighbourhood of Etobicoke and had served as an enforcer for Mr. Lisi, several sources familiar with the Etobicoke drug scene have told The Globe. He no longer coaches at Don Bosco.
Mr. Aboodowleh pleaded guilty to his 2009 charges for assaulting a police officer and dangerous driving. His sentence included 35 days in jail, two years of probation and a five-year prohibition on possessing firearms.
According to an agreed statement of facts, police officers spotted Mr. Aboodowleh driving erratically on April 1, 2007, running through three red lights, swerving in and out of lanes, and accelerating to 140 kilometres an hour on a residential road when officers tried to pull him over. He was arrested at his home.
At the police station, Mr. Aboodowleh yelled out an obscenity when two officers searched him. He curled his fingers into a fist, raised his right arm and charged toward a detective. He was subdued before he could strike the officer.
Mr. Aboodowleh’s lawyer told the court his client was at an Etobicoke house party before encountering police. Mr. Aboodowleh, whose previous convictions include assaulting his mother and brother, contended his pop had been spiked with the drug LSD.
The mayor and Mr. Aboodowleh, along with others, are the subject of a lawsuit filed in January by Scott MacIntyre, the estranged common-law spouse of Mr. Ford’s sister. Mr. MacIntyre alleges he was assaulted in jail in 2012 to keep him quiet about the mayor’s abuse of alcohol and drugs. The allegations have not been proven in court.