In 2013, Robyn Doolittle was one of two reporters at the Toronto Star who viewed and reported about a video in which Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is seen smoking what appears to be crack. A year later, Ms. Doolittle, the author of the bestseller Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, got a chance to see a second video of Mr. Ford smoking drugs, one that would finally force him to go into rehab. In this exclusive excerpt from the updated and expanded paperback version of Crazy Town to be released in Sept. 16, she picks up the story in April of this year, just after she left the Star to join The Globe and Mail's investigations team.
Four days after arriving at The Globe, my new phone pinged with a message, subject line: ROBFORD.
"Are you still interested in Rob Ford? I might have a new video you wanna see," wrote someone claiming to be named Jermaine Kabongo.
It was about 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and I was out with friends celebrating my major life change. I set down my beer and fired off a quick response, "Who isn't interested in Rob Ford?"
He replied right away, "What if I tell you I have a new video of the mayor … doing something he promised not to do again."
"I'd say that's interesting. When, where, what… etc," I wrote.
He didn't reply and I carried on with my night. Ever since the Garrison Ball story, I'd been getting tips like these every few months. Most of the time, it was just someone trying to mess with me.
I didn't think much more about it until Monday morning when another e-mail was waiting in my inbox, subject line: details.
The tipster claimed he'd secretly filmed Mr. Ford smoking crack cocaine that weekend in his sister's basement. (Remember, Kathy Ford was an admitted drug addict with a lengthy criminal record.) Even more interesting, the tipster said accused extortionist Sandro Lisi had been there too.
It was possible this Jermaine person was lying, but I was intrigued. I sent a heads-up note to my new colleague Greg McArthur – the Globe reporter who had written the story a year earlier about the Ford family's history with drug dealing. I'd known Mr. McArthur by reputation for years, but we'd officially met at a barbecue about a year earlier. For obvious reasons, we'd never been able to talk about what we were working on. Now that we were at the same paper, we could finally compare notes.
Over the next two days, the tipster and I exchanged e-mails. At one point, he said he'd send along screen grabs, but then changed his mind. I gave him my cell number but he didn't call. On Tuesday night, he demanded to meet immediately or "the deal no longer stands."
I pushed back. I told him if he wanted to meet he needed to call me and that I wasn't going to arrange anything until then. Shortly after 11 a.m. on Wednesday, my cellphone rang.
"So you wanna see this video?"
He sounded young, but his voice was deep. I asked him a few questions about Kathy Ford. He knew her home address and a few other details that made me think he could be legitimate. He wanted to meet immediately. Somewhere west of Toronto. I told him I'd need an hour.
I sent a note to Mr. McArthur then walked over to the office of my new editor-in-chief, David Walmsley.
"So I know this sounds crazy – and I'm not sure if it's true – but I think I may have another crack video," I said. "I'm supposed to go meet them now. Greg is going to come. I just wanted to give you a heads-up because they're probably going to want money."
Mr. Walmsley and I walked over to Sinclair Stewart's office. He's the second in command. I explained that while I do get these tips sometimes, this one seemed like it could be legitimate, given some of the details the person knew.
If Mr. Walmsley and Mr. Stewart were excited they didn't show it. I was struck by their calmness. "Okay go check it out," was all Mr. Stewart said.
Mr. McArthur and I headed out in his sedan. The tipster directed us to a major intersection in a city west of Toronto. He said he'd provide us with more specific instructions when we were closer. We'd be meeting him and his friend.
On the drive, we hashed out a basic strategy. The main objective was to see the video. They were definitely going to want money. Probably in the six-figure range. And we didn't want to get sucked into that conversation too early because they weren't going to like what we had to say on the subject.
As Mr. McArthur and I headed west that afternoon, I thought back to the darker days from the year before, when I'd casually overhear strangers on the street talking about how the Star had obviously made up the story to sell papers. I didn't regret anything about how we'd handled negotiations, but given that I might be getting a second crack at this, it only made sense to try to look for areas that could be improved. For me, that meant getting a screenshot.
When we turned off the highway, I called the tipster. He told us to park at the Chuck E. Cheese somewhere out in the open and then he and his friend would come find us.
"Chuck E. Cheese?" Mr. McArthur double-checked.
"Chuck E. Cheese."
A few minutes later, we saw the mouse. We parked at the north end of the lot and I stood outside the car.
About 10 minutes later, two young men appeared. Their hands were shoved deep in their pockets as they walked towards us with a bit of a street swagger. They looked to be in their early twenties. Maybe even late teens. One was tall, with a dark hooded sweatshirt pulled up around his face. The other was thick, with tattoos and small eyes.
The tall one got in the back with me. The one who claimed to have shot the footage climbed in the front with Mr. McArthur. Both seemed totally relaxed, unlike the last time I'd done this when the dealer seemed on the verge of a meltdown.
"Okay, so you wanna see it?" the man in the front said, grinning.
He pulled out a banged-up iPhone and hit play. There he was. Once again. Mayor Ford, obviously high on something, pacing around a room. There was no sound this time. The pair claimed the audio on the phone didn't work which didn't seem impossible given the state it was in, but who knows.
This time, there were three videos. Each appeared to have been filmed in a dark basement with dingy cream tiles on the ceiling. In one, Mr. Ford could be seen talking on a cellphone, while Kathy sat nearby in a green t-shirt and Mr. Lisi watched silently from the back of the room. The mayor wore a white button-up shirt and a black tie with white detailing. It was the same outfit he'd worn to work on Friday. Mr. Ford was waving his arm around and bopping side to side on the spot. In another, Mr. Ford was ranting to someone off screen, while holding a long copper-coloured pipe with something that looked like aluminum foil secured around the bowl. In the last video, Mr. Ford lit the pipe and exhaled a cloud of smoke. At that moment, his right hand began to shake. Each had been filmed from a low angle. Sometimes the shooter's knee was visible. At one point, the dealer held up another cellphone, a flip phone, in front of the screen to reveal the time: 1:15 a.m. April 26, 2014; a little more than a week after the mayor's official re-election campaign kick-off.
"I won't sell this for less than six figures," the man in the front said afterward.
We talked for an hour. They claimed their names were Jugga (the muscular one who said he shot the footage) and SPablo (the tall one in the back with me). They wanted us to print their nicknames – "to send a message" – and said they didn't care if the cops knew who they were.
Mr. McArthur and I agreed that – given that Mr. Ford had now admitted to smoking crack – the market value of these clips was nowhere near $100,000. But Jugga wouldn't budge.
"Gawker raised $200,000 last time," he said. "People will pay."
And then I saw my opening.
"Okay, here's the problem," I began. "You're not going to get that kind of money from a Canadian outlet – and I know this because I've been through this before. An American outlet might pay that. Maybe Gawker. Maybe TMZ. Who knows. But not someone here. And someone in the States isn't going to pay that amount of money without knowing the video is real."
They looked at me intently, unsure where I was going.
"But," I continued, "if you send them something, or let them watch it, they're just going to write about it – like last time. So I have a proposition for you: Sell us screen grabs of the video. We'll write about what we saw. We will confirm the video is real. From there, do what you want."
Jugga shook his head.
"No way," he said immediately. "There's no way." He kept talking but I didn't hear it. I was looking at SPablo who seemed to be thinking things over.
"Wait," he said, turning to Jugga. "Can I talk to you outside?"
About five minutes later, they got back in the car and told us screenshots were an option. We promised to at least bounce the idea of buying the video off our editors, and see what they said. If they weren't interested – and Mr. McArthur and I reiterated they would almost definitely not be interested – we'd look at buying photos.
They got out and walked away. Mr. McArthur and I went to a restaurant nearby to write our notes. I e-mailed Mr. Stewart and Mr. Walmsley: "It's real."
An hour later we were sitting in Mr. Walmsley's office. We were unanimous that photos were the way to go, if they'd agree to a reasonable price. But what would that be?
I called the dealers. After some back and forth, we agreed on $10,000 for six images, one had to be the cellphone to help prove the time and date. They wanted it wrapped up immediately, so we made arrangements to meet in a busy food court that evening. Mr. McArthur drove. I was in charge of the envelope of fifties. The handover was quick. While I uploaded the files to my laptop, SPablo counted the money in the bathroom. The photos showed Mr. Ford staring at the long pipe, talking on his cellphone and yelling at someone off camera. They were very powerful. I felt a rush. This was the first physical evidence of Mr. Ford's illicit behavior. This was going to be huge.
That night, around the time we published our story about the second crack video, Mr. Ford's office issued a statement: He was going to rehab.
I was dumbfounded. I had expected this a year ago. But Mr. Ford had dug in his heels so many times, I never actually thought it would happen.
We shipped off our story for the print edition and headed out to celebrate.
My first byline in the Globe ran on A1 – "Ford takes break as new drug video revealed" – accompanied by a massive photo of Toronto's mayor, in a white collar shirt and tie, holding a long pipe.
Excerpted from the upcoming new edition of Crazytown: The Rob Ford Story.