The remarkable number of his associates with criminal records has to make you wonder if Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been involved in something more than just smoking a little crack and pot.
There is 35-year-old Alessandro Lisi, his close friend and sometimes driver, who is presently contesting drug charges, as well as an extortion charge arising from his alleged attempt to recover a video of Ford smoking crack.
There is also 45-year-old Fabio Basso and his sister, 52-year-old Elena Johnson, lifelong friends with drug convictions who reside in the reputed crack house where the video was allegedly made.
And then there are Anthony Smith, Muhammad Khattak, and Monir Kassim, three alleged gang members who posed for a photo with Ford outside said reputed crack house.
Smith subsequently died in a shooting outside a Toronto nightclub in which Khattak was wounded. Khattak and Kassim were later arrested as a result of Project Traveller, a major drug, gang and gun investigation aimed at the Dixon Street Bloods. They pleaded not guilty and the cases are pending.
In a twist that has led some to wonder if there is a larger criminal conspiracy, a young man named Hanad Hussein was later thrown from the balcony of the sixth floor apartment in Fort McMurray where Smith’s admitted killer, Hanad Mohamed, was arrested.
Hussein survived. His family insisted that the incident involved jealousy over a woman and was completely unrelated to the Smith shooting or to Ford.
More material for conspiracy theorists came after both men, who are said by police and in numerous media reports to have sold the video of Ford smoking crack, became victims of violence. Mohamed Siad, the first person who reportedly sought to peddle the video, was stabbed multiple times in jail after being arrested in the Project Traveller gang roundup. The incident is said by police to be unrelated to threatening calls he is said by police to have received from the mayor’s main man, Lisi.
The second man widely reported to have sought to sell the video, Abdullahi Harun, was shot in the leg just down the hall from a high-rise apartment where the video may have been stashed. Both men survived.
But no evidence has come to light that Ford and his closest associates have been part of some ongoing criminal enterprise. Some seem at this point to be decidedly disorganized, overgrown suburban mall rats—with some in their 30s and 40s still living with mom. They appear to be little changed from their teenage days when the hangout was a strip mall called the Royal York Plaza in suburban Etobicoke, near the Ford six-bedroom home, which was comfortably commensurate with the father’s success as founder of the Deco Labels and Tags company.
The teens who frequented the mall are said to have called themselves RY Drifters, but they were less of a gang and more of a gaggle of misfits. Rob Ford’s older brother, Doug, is said by the Toronto Globe and Mail to have been a primary local hashish connection, supplying a number of street level dealers. He denies the allegation and was never charged.
A third Ford brother, Randy, was arrested—though not convicted—of kidnapping and assaulting a drug customer in an effort to recover a debt. The lone Ford sister, Kathy, took up for a time with a heroin addict who later shot her new boyfriend to death in front of her two children. She herself was later shot in the head in their parents’ kitchen by a friend with a history of drug and weapons offenses. She survived.
Rob was the youngest by five years, and he even might have been the family’s white sheep in those early days. He was co-captain of the junior varsity football team at Scarlett Heights Collegiate, which won only one out of six games going into the championships but amazed everybody by beating the top team. A Toronto newspaper has noted that Rob was still wearing his championship jacket three years later.
Rob’s football glory was not to be repeated as he completed high school and went on to Carleton University, where he made the team but never actually played. He dropped out after a year and joined his brothers in the family label business.
Doug seems to have avoided any apparent use of drugs and was now applying his considerable business acumen to selling labels. Randy was channeling his alleged aggressiveness into expanding the business to Chicago. Rob languished in sales.
“His heart just wasn’t into labels,” an employee would later tell a reporter.
The father, Doug, Sr., had served as a conservative member of the Ontario legislature. Rob now sought to follow him into politics, just as Etobicoke was incorporated into Toronto. The union resulted in a cultural gap similar to when Staten Island became part of New York City, and Rob proved to be fonder of labels in politics than he was in packaging as he began lambasting the “downtown elite.”
Even though Deco was racking up $100 million in sales a year, Rob was able to pass himself off as the champion of the common man as he ran for Toronto City Council in late 1998. He and his father teamed up with the police in a well-publicized effort to fight drugs in a local housing project by jotting down the license plate numbers of suspected customers. The drivers would then get a letter.
“It would tell them not come back to the area,” Rob recalled to a local newspaper.
But, Rob seems to have remained a bit of a mall rat. He was arrested not long afterwards for drunk driving while vacationing in Florida. He was found to have a joint in his right rear pocket.
“Go ahead, take me to jail!” he was quoted saying in the police report.
The marijuana charge was dropped when he pleaded guilty to DUI. He was sentenced to 50 hours of community service, which he fulfilled back in Toronto as a volunteer football coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School.
Ford went on to serve a decade on the council, concentrating on such constituent services as filling potholes, becoming a decidedly popular populist. He ran for mayor in 2009 and had a ready answer when the Florida pot arrest was dragged up.
“I am not perfect,” Ford said. “I have never claimed to be perfect.”
The long-ago indiscretion was forgotten as he condemned free-spending liberals and pledged to “stop the gravy train.” He took office in 2010, with his brother Doug taking his place in the city council.
The full extent of Rob Ford’s imperfection started to become apparent in February, when, according to numerous witnesses and media reports, he arrived manifestly inebriated at the formal Garrison Ball held each year to honor the Canadian military and benefit wounded soldiers. The mayor’s condition was all the more troubling because he brought his two young children. The mayor was asked to leave and departed with Lisi at the wheel. Also in the vehicle was a childhood friend named Bruno Bellissimo, who has been described in a police affidavit connected to the Lisi case as a crack addict.
Then, in May, news broke that somebody was trying to peddle a video of Rob Ford smoking crack. The video had apparently been shot in February – the month of the Garrison Ball - in the reputed crack house where his two friends reportedly reside.
The photo then surfaced of Ford posing outside the house with three alleged Bloods members, including the one who would subsequently be shot to death. There was also a report that Ford had shown up after visiting hours at a Toronto jail back in March, at first demanding a tour, then demanding to see his pal Bellissimo, who had been arrested for attacking his mom. Bellissimo was later convicted of the assault, further adding to the cumulative criminal record of Rob’s pals.
To the mayor’s great distress, he was declared coach-a-non-grata by the Catholic school football team where he had continued to volunteer. That rendered moot questions about Payman Aboodowleh, the coach Ford is widely reported to have recruited, who proved to have been arrested on several occasions for assault.
According to a police report, Aboodowleh had been upset because Rob Ford’s constant companion, Lisi, “was fueling the Mayor’s drug abuse.”
By then, police say in a 472-page affidavit attached to a search warrant application for Lisi’s residence, they had also begun to suspect that he was both the mayor’s main drug connection as well as the point man in trying to track down and secure the crack smoking video before it became public. The police initiated what was dubbed Project Brazen 2. A team of detectives began trailing Lisi, noting that he routinely engaged in what they called “counter-surveillance,” racing through red lights, pulling over mid-block, veering down side streets, making u-turns.
The surveillance was briefly suspended while police made the gang sweep, which focused on an apartment complex that was just a moment’s walk from the reputed crack house. The cops then resumed trailing Lisi, pursuing the case with a methodology that seemed at times almost ludicrous given the relatively minor nature of the suspected crimes, but arguably necessary given that the suspects included the mayor of North America’s fourth largest city. The police watched Lisi from the air with a Cessna for such prolonged periods that community residents began to grumble about the noise, threatening to send a photo of the spy plane to the newspapers.
“For the foreseeable future The Toronto Police Surveillance aircraft will no longer be used,” the Project Brazen 2 report notes.
The cops made up for the loss of the plane by placing an electronic tracking device on Lisi’s car. They repeatedly observed Lisi and Rob Ford arriving in separate vehicles at a gas station a few hundred meters from the mayor’s house, communicating by cell phone immediately before and afterwards but not exchanging a word in person. Lisi appeared to place something in Rob’s car while he was inside the station’s mini-mart washroom. The cops subsequently pulled the surveillance camera footage and noted the interlude in minutest detail.
“Mayor FORD signals to the gas station attendant and presumably asks for some paper towel,” a police document notes at one point. “The attendant provides him with some.”
On other occasions, Ford and Lisi met beyond the tree line behind his house. They also met for an hour in a secluded section of a park.
“Surveillance officers were able to locate the area in Weston Wood Park where LISI and FORD met; a vodka and juice bottle were seized from this spot,” the police report says. “So as not to reveal that the original bottles were seized replacement ones were left behind.”
Another meeting place was the parking lot at Scarlett Heights, the school where Ford had enjoyed his fleeting football glory. Lisi drove off to a gas station to meet an unidentified man who placed something in his car. Lisi then returned and joined Ford in his car, a Cadillac Escalade. Ford and Lisi both deposited refuse in a trash can that the police afterwards duly vouchered as possible evidence.
“Mayor FORD's garbage: believed to be two empty vodka bottles,” the report says. “LISI garbage: later discovered to be a submarine sandwich bag.”
At one point, the police observed Lisi entered the Richview Cleaners and emerge with a pizza box.
“Through the research I conducted I conclude that Richview Cleaners only specializes in dry-cleaning and is not in the food industry,” a detective noted in the report.
An undercover cop went into the dry cleaner’s with two shirts, deliberately leaving a packet of Zig-Zag rolling papers in the pocket of one. The undercover later returned to get his shirts and the manager, Jamshid Bahrami, presented him with the Zig-Zags.
“As BAHRAMI was handing the UC this BAHRAMI was smiling,” the police report says. ”BAHRAMI asked the UC if he liked weed. The UC advised he did and asked if BAHRAMI could help him out. BAHRAMI asked how much the UC needed.”
The report goes on, “BAHRAMI has told the undercover officer that LISI is one of his suppliers, that LISI is Mayor FORD's bodyguard and most recently that LISI is ‘laying low’ for a month due to all the media coverage surrounding him.”
Lisi declined to deal directly with the undercover officer, allegedly stopping by just before the October 1st deal with a half pound of pot, then returning afterwards to pick up the money. HE was arrested for drug trafficking outside the dry cleaners and police found a wad of cash in his left front pocket. The serial numbers of the $900 in bills allegedly corresponded to those of the buy money. Bahrami was also charged and both have pleaded not guilty.
The following day, police applied for a warrant to search Lisi’s home. Attached to the application was a 474 affidavit detailing not only the surveillance, but summaries of electric intercepts as well as interviews with the mayor’s staff and friends regarding the mayor’s behavior.
That included a drunken St. Patrick’s Day where Rob Ford is supposed to have told a onetime female aide, "I'm going to eat you out" and "I banged your Pussy." The affidavit adds, “These types of comments were repeated at the end of the night around 4:00AM when Mayor FORD was being walked out and he told a female guard at City Hall that he ‘was going to eat her box.’”
At the end of October, police announced that Lisi was also being charged with "extortive efforts to retrieve a recording” in the immediate aftermath of the news reports about the video showing Ford smoking crack. The police reported that they had managed to recover the video from a computer seized during the Project Traveler raids back in June. The owner had deleted the video, but the police had been able to retrieve it nonetheless and found it did indeed appear to show the mayor smoking crack.
“(Lisi) placed several threatening/extorting phone calls to individuals he felt may be in possession of the video recording,” say court papers detailing extortion charges against Lisi. “The accused insinuated that there would be consequences for the failure to return the video recording depicting the video images of the Mayor.”
What may ultimately prove more damaging to the mayor was his response to the allegations in the search warrant affidavit regarding his supposed remarks to two women about oral sex. He was understandably irritated that the police had decided to include the remarks in an affidavit for a search warrant. He ended by telling the press, “I’ve got more than enough eat at home.”
Spoken like a true overgrown mall rat.
Meanwhile, Ford’s mantra these days should be familiar to anyone who remembered his response after his pot bust in Florida came to light.
“I’m not perfect,” he said on the Today show.