ABOVE: Sean Mallen takes a look at the police techniques used in the investigation.
TORONTO – Detectives investigating Mayor Rob Ford and his friend Sandro Lisi got an unexpected boost from wiretaps intended for an entirely different gun-and-drug investigation.
Wiretaps from the Project Traveller investigation reveal extensive alleged conversations between associates of Ford and Lisi, police documents suggest – including discussions via phone and text message of a video showing Ford smoking what looks like crack cocaine.
Some of those conversations eventually led to Lisi being charged with extortion and drug trafficking.
Many of the people alleged to’ve been involved in these conversations were among 43 people arrested during June’s raids, when police seized close to $3 million in narcotics, $572,000 in cash and 40 firearms.
Police also seized a hard drive from which forensic officers were able months later to recover a deleted file Police Chief Bill Blair claimed was “consistent” with the video of the mayor previously reported in the press.
Read More: Complete coverage of Mayor Rob Ford.
The Project Traveller investigation focused on an Etobicoke street gang known as the “Dixon Goonies” or “Dixon Bloods” which allegedly operated near the apartment complexes of 320 Dixon Road.
Police were granted wiretaps on 59 people, several of whom would later allegedly become involved with the mayor and the evolving crack video scandal. These included Mohamed Siad, Liban Siyad, Abdullahi Harun and the three people pictured with Ford outside what police called a “trap house” – Mohammed Kattak, Monir Kasim and the now-deceased Anthony Smith.
WATCH: Who had the alleged crack video, and what did Rob Ford offer to get it back? Jackson Proskow breaks down the latest shocking revelation.
Those intercepts led police to Lisi – the mayor’s friend and occasional driver – who on April 20, 2013 allegedly exchanged marijuana for the mayor’s cell phone, according to the documents.
None of the statements in the documents have been proven in court.
According to the documents, the mayor believed his phone had been stolen while at an alleged crackhouse at 15 Windsor Road (The mayor had been at the home and allegedly buying drugs from Siyad). Lisi accused Siyad of stealing the phone, according to the wiretap information.
Lisi’s now charged with trafficking and extortion, accused of using threats against Siad and Siyad to obtain the infamous video.
Wiretaps likely to be challenged in court
But whether those wiretaps can be used in court will be up for debate. The viability of the wiretaps themselves is likely to be challenged in court.
“I would expect that any of the lawyers involved in this prosecution will be bringing a challenge to the granting of the authorization in the first place,” said Daniel Brown, lawyer for Khattak and Siad, who has already fought (so far unsuccessfully) to see the video.
“One of the steps in any criminal litigation gives the accused person the right to challenge the authorization being granted in the first place.”
Brown said lawyers commonly challenge whether police exaggerated claims of criminality, misstated facts of misled the judge into issuing a warrant. If any of those claims is proven correct, all of the information gleaned from the wiretaps could be deemed inadmissible.
Khattak was photographed alongside the mayor, Monir Kasim and Anthony Smith in the infamous photo circulated by news outlets following reports of the alleged crack video. Brown says his client “perhaps innocently” took a photo with the mayor and was consequently “brought into the mix.”
The wiretaps were just a part of the extensive Project Traveller and Brazen investigations. Police also used several surveillance teams and techniques including mounting cameras atop telephone poles and surveillance planes.
All of the information gathered by the teams was compiled into more than 400 pages used to obtain a search warrant. According to Brown, the “voluminous” investigation for what amounted to minor charges against Lisi is “very unusual.”
“It is something you would expect in a large criminal organization investigation but not something in a very small drug investigation and certainly not something that was unrelated to criminal organizations as was the case with Mr. Lisi.”
Wiretaps are used sparingly and only as a “last resort” by investigators, Brown said.
WATCH: Jackson Proskow breaks down more of the revelations and discoveries contained in the latest batch of newly-released court documents
Former detective Mark Mendelson agrees. He added that the cost of wiretaps (both in manpower and price), their difficulty to obtain and their strain on the right to privacy of those being listened to make them difficult tools to obtain and use in court.
Mendelson, a retired police officer with 29 years’ experience (with 15 on the homicide squad) said wiretaps are usually reserved for serious criminal offences such as homicide, drugs, extortion or investigating a criminal organization.
The homicide squad steps in
Project Brazen did not concern homicide but was led by Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux and the city’s homicide squad. The reason? Mayor Rob Ford.
“They’re used to dealing in very high-profile investigations,” Mendelson said. “The integrity of the investigation is vital because you’re going to end up in front of some of the top judges in this province, you’re going to be facing some of the top criminal lawyers.”
He added that if the homicide squad had not been involved and the mayor, due to a lack of investigative talent, had been let slip away from the investigation, police would heavily criticized for not involving the unit.
But to some, has slipped away already. The documents reveal several alleged meetings between Lisi and Ford during which packages – specifically a manila envelope – were exchanged.
Mendelson however counters that the point of an investigation is to get “as high on the ladder as you possibly can.”
“They don’t know what these packages are. They could contain drugs, they could contain documents, they could contain growth hormone, we don’t know.”