TORONTO – Toronto police have seized a video of Rob Ford that media outlets have alleged appears to show him smoking crack cocaine, though Chief Bill Blair said they have no “reasonable” grounds to criminally charge the mayor.
Allegations of a Ford video surfaced in May when reporters from the Toronto Star and the U.S. website Gawker reported they were shown the video by alleged drug dealers who were shopping it around.
Newly released court documents show Toronto police opened an investigation into those allegations, headed by a senior detective.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced Thursday that earlier this week officers examined a hard drive seized in “Project Traveller,” a drugs and weapons investigation and recovered a digital video file of Ford that had originally been deleted.
“That file contains video images which appear to be those images which were previously reported in the press,” Blair said.
The mayor has repeatedly said he does not use crack cocaine and the video does not exist. He arrived at city hall early Thursday afternoon but did not speak to reporters gathered outside his office.
Alexander Lisi, a friend of Ford’s, was charged earlier this month with four drug offences. As a result of discovering the video, Lisi is now also charged with extortion for allegedly making “extortive efforts to retrieve a recording,” police said. The video will be presented in court as part of Lisi’s extortion case, Blair said.
Blair, who has personally watched the video, said it’s believed it relates to events at a home on Windsor Drive. The home is referred to in court documents released Thursday in Lisi’s drug case by a confidential informant as a “crack house.”
“As a citizen of Toronto I’m disappointed,” Blair said. “This is a traumatic issue for the citizens of this city and for the reputation of this city and that concerns me.”
Asked whether Ford could face charges, Blair said there’s nothing in the video that would allow police to “form reasonable grounds” to support the laying of a criminal charge.
The police document shows that friends and former staffers of Ford were concerned that Lisi was “fuelling” the Toronto mayor’s alleged drug use.
The lengthy document details evidence police collected in order to get a search warrant for Lisi, Ford’s friend and occasional driver. The document contains police allegations used to obtain search warrants, and those allegations have not been proven in court.
Ford former staffer, Chris Fickel, told police he didn’t know where Ford got marijuana from, but “has heard that ‘Sandro’ may be the person who provides the mayor with marijuana and possibly cocaine,” the document alleges.
However, Fickel added, he has never seen Lisi provide the mayor with drugs. The mayor would call Fickle and tell him to tell “Sandro” that “I need to see him,” Fickle told police.
Payman Aboodowleh, a volunteer football coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, where Ford coached the team, told police that Lisi met Ford through him. He told police he was “mad at Lisi because he was fuelling the mayor’s drug abuse,” the document says.
A photograph of the mayor with three men, one of whom — Anthony Smith — was gunned down on a city street, accompanied the Star story published in May. The other two men in the photo, which was taken in front of a house, were arrested as part of “Project Traveller.”
On March 28, the day Smith was killed, the document says Ford and Lisi spoke on the phone seven times, with the mayor initiating five of the calls.
The document says police compared that photograph to an address that a confidential informant told police was a “crack house,” and found it had the same colour, overhanging light, white trim, brick colour and pattern.
Hours after the Gawker article was published, phone records show Lisi called Mohamed Siad, who the police report says “is believed to have been one of the people trying to sell Mayor Ford crack video.” He also called one of the residents of the “crack house” several times.
The Toronto Star has identified Siad as one of the men it says showed its reporters the alleged video. Siad was arrested in June as part of Project Traveller, a massive sweep targeting gang activity.
According to the document, police were conducting surveillance on Lisi and on June 26 saw him meet with Ford at a soccer field.
They spoke for a few minutes then Lisi returned to his vehicle, retrieved a white plastic bag appearing to contain some items, put some cans of Minute Maid in it, then Lisi put the bag in Ford’s SUV, then walked back to meet up with Ford, the documents allege.
On July 11 Ford is seen on surveillance cameras parking at a gas station then walking straight to the washroom. Shortly after, Lisi arrives at the gas station. Lisi is seen walking near the mayor’s SUV holding a manila envelope.
“Lisi appears to be looking around, possibly scoping out the area,” the document says.
Lisi is then seen walking along the passenger side of the mayor’s vehicle then goes out of the surveillance tape frame and isn’t seen again. Ford spends about six minutes in the washroom then buys a pack of gum and drives away.
On July 30 police observed Lisi and Ford meet in the parking lot of the same gas station. They saw Lisi get into Ford’s SUV with a white gift bag and leave a few minutes later without the bag.
On July 28 police watched Lisi and Ford meet behind a school. After they left police seized garbage that Ford threw out and it contained two empty vodka bottles.
An Ontario Superior Court judge ordered the release of the document Wednesday following an application by media lawyers who argued it contains information that is in the public interest.
With files from Paola Loriggio.