Councillor Doug Ford refused to discuss a Globe and Mail report about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's after-hours visit at a west-end jail in March, a visit that another Ford ally suggested was an example of the mayor's desire to lend a helping hand.
The visit was deemed unusual by correctional officials and prompted an e-mail describing the incident for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, multiple sources have told The Globe.
Mr. Ford went to the jail that night to speak with a then-inmate named Bruno Bellissimo, The Globe has learned. Mr. Bellissimo, 43, is not named in the e-mail, but two sources, including Mr. Bellissimo's mother, identified him as the person Mr. Ford was trying to contact. The mayor has yet to give an explanation for the visit, but his deputy mayor Doug Holyday addressed the visit Monday at city hall, saying the mayor was likely trying to lend a helping hand.
On Monday, the mayor's brother, councillor Doug Ford, said he hadn't read the Globe report on the jail visit. He refused to respond and directed questions to the mayor.
"I don't even know who Bruno Bellissimo is," Mr. Ford said.
The mayor has yet to give an explanation for the jail visit, but his deputy mayor Doug Holyday addressed the visit at city hall, saying the mayor was likely trying to help out.
"I can believe the mayor would go to visit someone in jail if it was someone that he knew and someone that he was concerned about," Mr. Holyday said. "Maybe the family was concerned and asked him to do it. That's just the way the mayor is. He goes to a lot of places, sees a lot of people and tries to help as best he can."
He added he has not spoken to the mayor yet today.
At around 7 p.m. on March 25, about three hours after official visiting hours, Mr. Ford arrived unannounced at the Toronto West Detention Centre and asked if he could have a tour of the jail, four sources with knowledge of aspects of the incident said. After the tour request was declined, the mayor indicated he wanted to meet with Mr. Bellissimo, a source in the correctional system, as well as Mr. Bellissimo's mother, Maria Bellissimo, said in interviews.
That request was also declined and the mayor departed – leaving an unsolved mystery within the correctional service about why the mayor visited at such an odd hour, why he was indirect about the purpose of his visit and why he needed to speak with Mr. Bellissimo, a 43-year-old who has had run-ins with police and has what numerous sources describe as a history of drug-related activity.
Since May, when journalists from the Toronto Star and Gawker, a U.S. gossip website, reported that they had been shown a video of Mr. Ford smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine, questions have lingered about how well the mayor is acquainted with people accused of participating in the illegal drug trade.
Mr. Ford has not explained in detail how it came to be that he posed for an infamous photograph that shows him mugging with three accused members of the Dixon City Bloods, an alleged drug-dealing, gun-running street gang that was the target of a major police investigation; he has also not explained what he was doing outside the house where that photograph was taken – a bungalow in North Etobicoke where a violent home invasion took place in May and which is occupied by associates from Mr. Ford's youth, including siblings Fabio Basso and Elena Basso.
The mayor's after-hours trip to the jail has introduced a new character to the mix – Mr. Bellissimo, who is one year younger than the mayor and in the words of Maria Bellissimo, has known Mr. Ford "since Bruno was small."
Mr. Ford's spokespeople declined to answer questions about the visit. Those questions were twice put to them in writing, and they were also asked about the incident in person on several occasions. Mr. Ford was approached by a Globe reporter and asked why he tried to visit Mr. Bellissimo and he did not respond.
Spokespeople for the provincial government and the correctional service declined to comment and a freedom of information request for records about the incident was denied in full under privacy provisions of the act.
When Mr. Bellissimo was approached by The Globe he repeatedly said "leave, buddy" and accused the reporters of harassing him. His mother spoke briefly with two Globe reporters, and explained that she heard about the mayor's trip to the jail through someone she didn't name. She said the mayor was a long-time friend of the Bellissimo family and that her son and Mr. Ford had been friends since they were about seven. They used to swim together, she said.
At the time of Mayor Ford's trip to the jail, Mr. Bellissimo was awaiting trial on charges that he had assaulted his parents and uttered a threat, court records show. He was convicted in early May, given credit for the more than 60 days he spent in the detention centre and sentenced to two years' probation, the records show.
Five current and former neighbours who asked not to be identified by name described Mr. Bellissimo's conduct on the street as disruptive. All of them described incidents where Mr. Bellissimo had been verbally abusive, sometimes screaming obscenities at his parents after they locked him out of the house. One neighbour said she had seen police at the house before the assault incident.
Three of those sets of neighbours said they have seen Mr. Ford at the Bellissimo residence, often speaking with Mr. Bellissimo's parents.
Mr. Bellissimo attended Don Bosco Secondary School in the mid 1980s, and was separated by one grade from Fabio Basso, the 45-year-old occupant of the bungalow where Mr. Ford was photographed with the three alleged members of the Dixon City Bloods.
Both men have been identified as long-time friends of Mr. Ford dating back to their teenage years, but it is unknown to The Globe whether Mr. Bellissimo and Mr. Basso are acquaintances. When Globe reporters approached the Basso home to ask questions for this story, they were urged to leave by Elena Basso, Fabio Basso's older sister.
With reports from Colin Freeze, Ann Hui, Renata D'Aliesio and Kaleigh Rogers.