Newly released documents suggest current London Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen and former council candidate Randy Warden paid Blackridge Strategy to create websites targeting then-incumbents Maureen Cassidy and Virginia Ridley during the 2018 municipal election campaign, according to Susan Toth, a lawyer for the women.
Cassidy was re-elected to her Ward 5 seat, but Van Meerbergen, who had lost to Ridley in 2014, reclaimed the Ward 10 seat in the 2018 election.
The websites gained notoriety in October 2018 after Cassidy and Ridley went public about the misleading statements made about them.
The website targeting Cassidy claimed she couldn’t be trusted, citing her high-profile affair with former mayor Matt Brown, while the website targeting Ridley described her as a “colossal spendthrift” and “greedy” and accused her of child abuse for bringing her son to a lengthy budget meeting.
Toth, who appeared on Monday’s edition of The Craig Needles Show to discuss the matter, released a trove of documents on Monday that she said were obtained through a court order in what is the latest in a series of scandalous revelations involving the embattled PR firm.
Just last week, it was announced that Blackridge Strategy’s co-owner and public school board trustee Jake Skinner decided to cut ties with the firm on Jan. 3. At the time, Skinner said co-owner Amir Farahi was still a “good friend” and always would be.
Among the documents Toth released on Monday is one that appears to be an invoice from Blackridge Strategy to Van Meerbergen describing the services the PR firm was hired to perform as “attack ads against Virginia Ridley” and “anonymous website.”
In an email to Global News Radio 980 CFPL on Monday afternoon, Van Meerbergen said he did not receive this invoice and did not pay it. He added that the invoice is “a complete fabrication” and “the explanation for it lies with the firm who produced it.”
Van Meerbergen has always denied any involvement in the fake websites, telling Global News Radio 980 CFPL on May 31, 2019 that it was a “bogus story about somehow … because I happen to live in Ward 10, I’m somehow involved in a fake website.”
However, he said at the time that he would be cutting ties with Blackridge Strategy over “concrete evidence” tying the PR firm to the websites.
The documents also include an exchange that appears to be between Warden and Farahi, with Farahi allegedly saying he would “be setting up the Maureen website soon” and Warden responding with a thumbs-up.
The release of the court documents also prompted a response from London Mayor Ed Holder, who tweeted about the serious nature of the matter.
Toth’s statement also noted that a “request has been made to Blackridge for further disclosure to be provided” in accordance with a court order. She added that her clients “are considering all possible legal responses, including a potential lawsuit.”
The statement also includes responses from Ridley and Cassidy.
“I have always said that this issue is much bigger than Virginia and me. It goes beyond London, Ont.,” Cassidy wrote.
“My fervent hope is that, in uncovering what we have uncovered, we have begun a process of healing for our community and a feeling of empowerment for those who may face something similar in the future. The truth always prevails. Bully tactics will not be allowed to determine who throws their hat into the ring and who doesn’t. I hope that today we’ve proven that.”
Ridley, meanwhile, noted that it’s been a long process for herself and her family.
“By seeing this process through, I only hope that we have been successful in deterring this type of behaviour in future elections and can return to civil, democratic, fair and law-abiding practices.”
Global News Radio 980 CFPL has reached out to Van Meerbergen, Warden and Blackridge Strategy about the matter but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
— with files from Global News Radio 980 CFPL’s Sawyer Bogdan.