Extended coverage: Police have video of Ford; court documents shed light on investigation
Published Thursday, October 31, 2013 5:04AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, November 1, 2013 4:59PM EDT
Toronto’s police chief says investigators have recovered a digital video file that shows Rob Ford in a situation that is consistent with images described in recent media reports.
Last May, Gawker and the Toronto Star published reports about a cellphone video that allegedly shows Ford smoking crack cocaine from a glass pipe. That video, allegedly recorded at a Windsor Road home identified by police as a known "trap house" or "crack house," had not surfaced, until now.
At a news conference Thursday, Chief Bill Blair would not describe the video's contents but he admitted the mayor appears in at least one of the digital files recovered from equipment seized during a criminal investigation.
“It’s fair to say the mayor does appear in that video,” Blair said.
Ford has repeatedly said he does not use crack cocaine and he has denied the video's existence.
“I think as a citizen of Toronto I’m disappointed,” Blair added moments later, saying the controversy is a “traumatic” issue for Toronto residents and the city’s image.
After obtaining the video, police arrested and laid a charge of extortion against Alexander "Sandro" Lisi, a friend of the mayor. Lisi is accused of making "extortive efforts to retrieve a recording," police say.
Blair said there are no reasonable grounds to charge the mayor based on the video's contents.
Investigators are reviewing the evidence and will lay additional charges in the case if there are reasonable grounds, Blair said.
The mayor has not been interviewed by investigators, he said.
Blair said the video in question was retrieved from a hard drive that was seized June 13 - the day police conducted a major sweep during a gun- and drug-trafficking investigation called Project Traveller.
After a lengthy forensic investigation of cellphones and computer hard drives seized during the investigation, experts were able to recover and view several trashed video files Tuesday, Blair said. Two of those videos relate to their investigation. At least one of those videos feature Ford.
Blair said the ongoing investigation is targeting “criminal behaviour” and not one individual in particular.
Unsealed documents show Ford meeting with Lisi
The police chief addressed the media shortly after an unsealed but heavily-redacted court document relating to Lisi's earlier drug arrest was released to the public. Evidence within the document was used to secure search warrants. The allegations have not been tested or proven in court.
In addition to covert operations, police received information from a confidential source, interviewed members of Ford's staff, and analyzed telephone records of calls between Ford and Lisi.
Based on sworn information from investigators, the 474-page document contains several police surveillance photos and first-hand descriptions from detectives who watched the mayor and Lisi meet several times under unusual circumstances.
Police launched the investigation, which is being led by the homicide squad, two days after the Gawker and the Toronto Star reports surfaced May 16, the document reveals. Those allegations surfaced as police were investigating two gangs - the Dixon City Bloods and Dixon Goonies - during the Project Traveller wiretap investigation.
As police gathered evidence about the video's contents, officers on the ground and an aircraft were used to tail Lisi as early as June 15 as he met with Ford and others at locations around the city. Police suspected Lisi was using "counter-surveillance measures" to shake anyone who may have been following him.
Here are some documented moments between Ford and Lisi:
- Lisi placed white bag in Ford's vehicle
One of the earliest encounters occurred June 26, when Lisi and Ford met as the mayor watched a soccer match near Renforth Drive and Centennial Park Gate. An unknown male remained in Lisi’s vehicle during the encounter.
After that conversation, Lisi returned to his vehicle as Ford continued to watch the game. Lisi retrieved a “weighted” white plastic bag from behind his seat and some cans of orange juice from the trunk, which he placed inside the bag.
Lisi then walked to Ford’s Cadillac Escalade, which was parked nearby, opened the driver’s side door and placed the bag on the centre console area.
Moments later, Lisi met again with Ford, who was carrying a toddler. The toddler entered Ford’s vehicle and he parted ways with Lisi after a brief discussion, the document alleges.
- Ford, Lisi meet at gas station
The document also contains allegations about a July 11 encounter, when police watched as Ford and Lisi, carrying an envelope, arrived in separate vehicles at an Esso gas station at Edenbridge Drive and Scarlett Road, not far from Ford’s home.
After both entered the store separately, Lisi exits after making purchases and eventually walks along the passenger side of Ford’s Escalade while the mayor was in the store’s washroom.
Lisi walks out of the camera’s frame and isn’t seen again. Around the same time, Ford emerges from the washroom, buys a drink and a pack of gum and returns to his vehicle before driving away.
- Camera records meeting outside Lisi's house
A camera mounted on a pole outside Lisi's home captured a meeting that took place July 23.
A secret camera mounted on a pole outside Lisi's home recorded a meeting that took place July 23. On that occasion, Ford parks his Escalade behind Lisi’s vehicle and he and a passenger walk out of view toward the residence.
Nearly two hours later, Ford and Lisi walk into the camera’s view and Lisi appears to show Ford something on a cellphone. Ford enters the Escalade and drives off alone as Lisi returns to his house.
Within 30 minutes, a police officer observes the Escalade in Ford’s driveway.
- Police analyze garbage thrown out by mayor, Lisi
As police followed the mayor July 28 to find out if he was meeting with Lisi, officers observed the mayor driving through a plaza at Weston Road and Highway 401. They lost the mayor for a short period until they found him going through a fast-food restaurant’s drive-thru.
Later, Ford was spotted dumping a plastic bag in a garbage receptacle near the Scarlett Heights Entrepreneurial Academy parking lot, where he parked. Lisi eventually met with Ford behind the school, where he carried a fast-food bag and a white plastic bag into the mayor’s Escalade.
During a conversation, Ford appeared to be looking at a document on his lap, police claim.
Within 30 minutes, Lisi exits the passenger seat and throws the fast-food bag into the same garbage and returns home, where he exits his vehicle with “an accordion type looking folder” that he did not receive during his meeting with Ford, police say.
Surveillance officers seized the bags thrown into the garbage and found food receipts and what they believe were two empty vodka bottles in Ford’s bag. Lisi’s bag contained a submarine sandwich bag.
During the surveillance period, police say they watched Lisi meet with a man who was later identified as Thomas Beyer, Ford's executive assistant, outside a grocery store at Royal York Road and Trehorne Drive, and they observed Ford driving around the Madill Street block where Lisi lives on consecutive days.
Officers also monitored people coming and going from Lisi's home, watched Lisi and others at Dixon Road apartments where Project Traveller culminated with drug raids, and followed Lisi on visits to the dry-cleaning shop Richview Cleaners where he was eventually arrested. On one occasion, Lisi was seen leaving the dry cleaning shop with a pizza box, police allege. On another occasion, he exited holding a package.
An investigation into the owner of Richview Cleaners show the man has a personal marijuana production license of 292 plants.
Here are some additional highlights from the document:
- Interviews with Ford staff, including David Price and Mark Towhey, raised concerns about his relationship with Lisi. The two socialized outside the mayor's office and Lisi drove the mayor to sporting events and the Garrison Ball, where Ford was accused of acting as if he was under the influence of alcohol.
- Lisi and Ford met through a mutual friend who went to high school with Ford and helped the mayor coach the Don Bosco high school football team. This friend has a violent criminal record.
- On July 24, Ford met Lisi at the entrance to the employee parking at city hall's underground parking garage. Ford swiped Lisi into the controlled access area. The mayor was later seen on TV at a Toronto Blue Jays game, but it was unclear from the short clip if he was accompanied by Lisi. Based on photos from Getty Images, police believe Lisi was at the game with Ford.
- Lisi and a second man visited Deco Labels and Tags, the Ford family business, on July 25. Lisi and the unknown man loaded building materials into a van, went to an LCBO and then went to Lisi's home.
- The document details telephone contact between Ford and Lisi: "Investigators believe that they have located the On Star telephone number used by Mayor FORD. There are 56 points of telephone contact between LISI and the Mayor's On Star telephone number. 24 are of the Mayor calling LISI and 32 are of LISI calling the Mayor."
- A source gave police the infamous photo of Ford posing with three alleged Dixon Bloods gang members – including eventual homicide victim Anthony Smith – outside the Windsor Road “crack house.” Smith was a former football player on the high school football team coached by Ford.
- A flurry of telephone calls were made after Gawker published its report.
- Footage from the pole-mounted camera outside Lisi's home was monitored remotely online via a secure site.
The document was released a day after an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that it can be partially unsealed and some information can be made public.
Media lawyers argued for the release of the document, saying it was in the public interest because it may contain references to Toronto’s mayor and it may shed more light on the relationship between Lisi and Ford.
Ford previously confirmed he and Lisi are friends. The document refers to Lisi as an occasional driver for Ford but not a paid member of his staff.
Some portions of the document remain sealed because they refer to innocent third parties not related to the core of the ongoing investigation. The Crown is trying to keep those details private, but media lawyers are returning to court to argue for their release.
Lisi was initially arrested Oct. 1 and charged with trafficking marijuana, possession of proceeds of crime, possession of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
Court heard Wednesday that Lisi was not the target of the large police investigation.
A co-accused, 47-year-old Jamshid Bahrami, is charged with possession of cocaine, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, and three counts of trafficking marijuana. Bahrami owns the dry-cleaning shop where he and Lisi were arrested.
Both have been released on bail and are scheduled to return to court in November.
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