Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's fledgling youth football club has been suspended from its league for failing to pay required fees.
The collapse of the Rexdale Raiders marks an end, for now, of the mayor's controversial coaching career, which included leaving meetings early at City Hall to coach practices and games, assigning football duties to his taxpayer-funded aides, and recruiting a man with a violent history to work with teenage players on the Raiders and on Mr. Ford's former team at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School.
The Ontario Minor Football League suspended the Raiders because the club failed to pay $1,950 in fees and fines, a violation of the league's constitution, said the organization's president Dan Ralph. He noted the Raiders were informed how much money was owed at the end of the summer football season. The league received a note in September from the club's representative, Xhejsi (JC) Hasko, a junior aide in the mayor's office, stating he was looking into getting the overdue payment covered. The league received no further response from the Raiders to its follow-up e-mails requesting payment, Mr. Ralph said. Neither Mr. Hasko nor the mayor's office responded to requests for comment Friday.
The Ontario Minor Football League had planned to discuss the status of one of Mr. Ford's coaches, Payman Aboodowleh, at its meeting last week, but the issue of Mr. Aboodowleh's criminal past and suitability as a youth football coach never came up because of the Rexdale Raiders' suspension.
Football coaching has been a significant part of Mr. Ford's life throughout his 13 years on city council. But his tenure on the gridiron unravelled this year – a year in which he admitted to smoking crack cocaine and marijuana, has been inebriated at public events and, according to a Toronto police Information to Obtain document released this week, has had ties to a violent gang that took numerous pictures and a video of him allegedly using drugs. None of the allegations in the document has been proven in court.
Mr. Ford faced a barrage of questions from reporters about his drug use and alleged links to the Dixon City Bloods gang on Thursday and Friday. The only statement he made was during an interview with a Washington sports radio station Thursday, in which he denied offering alleged gang members money and a car in exchange for a video of himself. Mr. Ford then quickly changed the subject back to sports. The mayor wanted to talk about football.
Mr. Aboodowleh, a long-time friend of Mr. Ford, had coached alongside the mayor for several years at Don Bosco and was heavily involved with the Raiders, founded by Mr. Ford in 2011. The Globe and Mail revealed in October that Mr. Aboodowleh passed a criminal background check with the Toronto Catholic school board despite his violent history, which included assaulting a police officer and a sibling, and breaking and entering.
The school board said Mr. Aboodowleh switched the "L" in his last name to "I" on his background check form. The change was not noticed by the school principal despite a requirement to verify identification.
The Catholic board launched a review of its volunteer-screening process as a result of mishandling Mr. Aboodowleh's police background check. It has reviewed its screening protocol with the board's more than 300 principals and vice-principals, stressing a volunteer's identification must be checked and forms must be forwarded to the human resources department, which sends the applications to Toronto police, said spokesman John Yan. School officials have also been told volunteers cannot submit their background forms directly to police, which occurred in Mr. Aboodowleh's case.
"It was not the protocol that was the problem, but the understanding of what the protocol meant," Mr. Yan said. "We are going to make sure all new principals and vice-principals are adequately trained in the volunteer protocol moving forward."
Mayor Ford served as a volunteer head coach at Don Bosco for a decade before being turfed in May. The Catholic board banned the mayor from coaching at any of its schools after he characterized Don Bosco and its student athletes in a negative light in a TV interview in March. The mayor suggested in the interview that the youngsters he coached would be in jail or dead without his football team.
The interview triggered a complaint from school staff, but board records show it was one of several concerns raised about the team's coaching staff in recent years. Although the decision to dismiss Mr. Ford was announced soon after reports of a video allegedly depicting the mayor smoking crack cocaine surfaced in May, board records indicate the decision was made earlier that month.
The mayor was angry and distraught when he was kicked off the Don Bosco team, reveals a nearly 500-page police affidavit submitted to court in a drug case involving Mr. Ford's friend Alexander Lisi. Mr. Ford ordered a junior aide in the mayor's office to organize a pizza party at the mayor's home for the football players despite objections from his then-chief of staff, Mark Towhey.
It's not clear whether Mr. Aboodowleh, 38, attended the party. Years before he became a coach on the mayor's teams, Mr. Aboodowleh was an enforcer for Mr. Lisi, several sources familiar with the Etobicoke drug scene have told The Globe.
Mr. Aboodowleh introduced Mr. Ford to Mr. Lisi, who has been a central figure in the drug and video scandal that has dogged Mr. Ford's administration. Mr. Lisi, 35, was charged in October with several marijuana charges and with extortion in connection with a unsuccessful bid to retrieve the video of the mayor allegedly smoking crack cocaine.
With a file from Kaleigh Rogers