Mayor Rob Ford appears to be standing by his friend and occasional driver after Toronto police charged the man with a handful of drug offences as part of what they are calling “an ongoing criminal investigation.”

As he addressed the latest controversy to swirl around him, Ford told reporters that he was “very surprised” to learn that Alexander (Alessandro) Lisi was arrested and charged by police Tuesday night.

“He’s a friend. He’s a good guy and I don’t throw my friends under the bus,” Ford said outside a gas station Wednesday afternoon before he departed on a business trip to Austin, Texas.

In response to the charges, Ford said he has never seen Lisi consume alcohol or illicit drugs.

“He’s straight and narrow,” the mayor said. “I’m surprised. I’m actually shocked.”

Lisi, 35, and a second man were arrested as plainclothes and uniformed officers conducted a drug search at Richview Cleaners, a dry-cleaning shop in a plaza at Eglinton Avenue West and Wincott Drive.

In addition to searching the business, police towed a black Range Rover that Lisi is known to drive, and they searched an Etobicoke home where he lives with his parents.

Lisi, also known as Sandro, does not serve an official role within the mayor’s office, but he has driven the mayor on occasion.

During a brief scrum with reporters, Ford ignored a question about whether he is concerned that his encounters with Lisi may have taken place under police surveillance, and he would not address neighbours’ claims that they often see the mayor at Lisi’s home.

In between questions, Ford lashed out at media members who waited for him outside his home Wednesday morning.

“You know what bothers me is you guys coming to my house, my front door. That’s pretty bad,” Ford said. “At least we can set up something, but don’t come to my front door again. I have kids, we’re getting ready to go away … that’s pretty low if you ask me.”

The controversy is overshadowing Ford’s trip to Austin, where he and delegates are attending a music festival to try to create partnerships that will give Toronto’s music scene a boost. The mayor’s wife and children are joining him on the trip.

Meanwhile, Lisi is charged with trafficking marijuana, possession of proceeds of crime, possession of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, police said.

Jamshid Bahrami, 47, is charged with possession of cocaine, conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, and three counts of trafficking marijuana.

People who work in the plaza said Bahrami owns and operates the dry-cleaning shop, and had been living in the back of the store. They say they knew him as "Jay."

Both men appeared in court Wednesday afternoon and were released on $5,000 bail.

They were both ordered not to be in possession of illegal drugs, weapons or more than one cellphone.

The men were also ordered to have no contact with one another.

Both are scheduled to be back in court Nov. 12.

Police are asking anyone with information about the investigation to call detectives at 416-808-7400 ext. 77387 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).

With files from CP24 reporter Cam Woolley.

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