The night Toronto Mayor Rob Ford made his appearance at the Garrison Ball, a gala dinner in February attended by hundreds of the city's elite, Alessandro (Sandro) Lisi was behind the wheel.
Months later, when news broke about an alleged video appearing to show the mayor smoking crack cocaine – one of the most trying moments of Mr. Ford's political career – Mr. Lisi was there again, this time running interference with reporters.
Mr. Lisi, 35, is the latest figure to emerge in the ongoing Ford controversy, with reports by The Globe and Mail and other media revealing that Toronto Police have interviewed several former staffers about Mr. Lisi, and attempts to retrieve the alleged video.
This latest revelation again raises questions about whether the mayor's office attempted to retrieve the alleged video – which Mr. Ford maintains does not exist – and the role that several of the mayor's long-time friends may have played.
Mr. Ford refused to comment over the weekend about the latest reports.
Asked by a Globe reporter whether he knew about the investigation, he replied with "no comment." Mr. Ford later told the Toronto Sun that the reports are "not accurate," adding that Mr. Lisi is a "great guy and he is straight as an arrow."
His brother, Toronto Councillor Doug Ford, meanwhile, told radio station AM640 that the reports are "just another attack."
According to people present during Toronto Police questioning, investigators asked at least five former staffers from the mayor's office about Mr. Lisi, and about attempts by Mr. Lisi and Ford staffer David Price to retrieve the alleged video.
In the morning after news first broke about the alleged video, Mr. Lisi was seen in his Range Rover, trailing Mr. Ford as he drove away from the pack of reporters gathered outside his home. Moments later, Mr. Lisi appeared again, stepping between reporters and the mayor while he made a stop at a Tim Hortons down the road.
Staffers said they first became aware of Mr. Lisi the night of the Garrison Ball, and that he's served as an occasional driver, ferrying the mayor to and from events ever since.
It's unclear how Mr. Lisi, almost a decade younger than Mr. Ford, became acquainted with the mayor. But neighbours in Mr. Lisi's upscale west-end neighbourhood told The Globe the mayor is a frequent visitor to his home. Mr. Lisi lives on Madill Street in Etobicoke with his parents, Antonio and Celia, who bought the house in 2003.
When the mayor first began visiting the street about nine months ago, one source said, he told neighbours he was there to visit his "friend Sandy."
Mr. Lisi drove away in his Range Rover after spotting two Globe reporters seeking comment outside his home Saturday afternoon. There was no answer at the door Sunday evening, and the driveway was empty and the lights turned off. His lawyer, Domenic Basile, would only say, "I can't confirm to you that my client is under police investigation; only the police can do that."
Mr. Lisi is not the only friend of the mayor who is raising questions. Bruno Bellissimo, a childhood friend of Mr. Ford who several sources said has a lengthy history with drugs, was also in the vehicle the night of the Garrison Ball, The Globe and Mail has learned.
A month later, after Mr. Bellissimo was charged with assaulting his parents, Mr. Ford made an after-hours visit to the Toronto West Detention Centre and attempted to see him. The mayor has so far declined to comment on why he attempted to visit Mr. Bellissimo that night.
Another long-time friend, Fabio Basso – whose home Mr. Ford was photographed in front of in a now well-known image – also has a criminal history. In the photograph, which was circulated by the video's owners along with the video, Mr. Ford is seen with his arms around Anthony Smith, who was later gunned down in front of a downtown nightclub. Also in the photograph are Monir Kasim and Muhammad Khattak, who were both arrested in Project Traveller, a massive crackdown on gangs and drugs.