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Van Meerbergen denies invoice linking him to Blackridge election attack websites

Paul Van Meerbergen.
Paul Van Meerbergen. Sawyer Bogdan / 980 CFPL

London Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen spoke to reporters at Tuesday night’s council meeting, calling the Blackridge invoice a fabrication.

On Monday, a press release was sent out by lawyer Susan Toth, saying documents obtained through a court order from Blackridge Strategy identified Paul Van Meerbergen as the person who paid for websites and attack ads to target a fellow candidate during the 2018 municipal election.

The invoice in question says Van Meerbergen paid for “attack ads” against former councillor Virginia Ridley and “anonymous websites” for a total of $1320.

READ MORE: Paul Van Meerbergen, Randy Warden involved in Blackridge websites scandal, documents suggest

“I did not receive this invoice, I did not pay it,” Van Meerbergen said.

“In short, I knew nothing about it.”

In an interview with 980 CFPL Monday, Blackridge Strategy owner Amir Farahi said, “the documents speak for themselves,” when asked about whether or not Van Meerbergen paid the invoice.

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Van Meerbergen sent an email to media on Monday, denying the reports.

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In a statement released by Blackridge Tuesday, the company addressed Van Meerbergen’s statement, saying the accusations that they fabricated the document were “highly inappropriate, and the implications are extremely serious.”

The statement went on to say that “an agent of his campaign, Barry Phillips, has already acknowledged that he requested and paid for a campaign website regarding Virginia Ridley. It is possible that the agent, in this case, either miscommunicated or did not communicate with his candidate on the issue.

“Nonetheless, when a service is delivered, we have to issue an invoice and account for it.”

READ MORE: Blackridge Strategy co-owner Jake Skinner leaves PR firm

In June of last year, Phillips came out saying that he paid for the attack website on Virginia Ridley.

When asked Tuesday if Phillips could have paid the invoice that was directed to Van Meerbergen, he had this to say.

“I am the only one in the campaign that had signing authority, and the only one that could approve contracts,” he said. “The contract with Blackridge was by me and me alone and the cheques were signed by me and only I had the signing authority of those cheques.

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“I can say with absolute assurance our campaign had nothing do to with these websites.”

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Van Meerbergen added that he, like many others, used the PR firm for his campaign but not to create any attack campaigns.

980 CFPL reached out to Phillips for comment and has not heard anything back.

Van Meerbergen said he has not had any contact with Phillips over the last few days.

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Is this the most brutal attack ad in political history?

The documents also include an exchange that appears to be between council candidate Randy Warden and Farahi, with Farahi allegedly saying he would “be setting up the Maureen website soon,” and Warden responding with a thumbs-up.

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During the 2018 municipal campaign, Blackridge Strategy created websites targeting then-incumbents Maureen Cassidy and Virginia Ridley during the 2018 municipal election campaign, according to Susan Toth, a lawyer for the women.

READ MORE: Paul Van Meerbergen, Randy Warden involved in Blackridge websites scandal, documents suggest

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,” accusing her of child abuse for bringing her son to a lengthy budget meeting.

In the statement sent out Monday, Toth said her clients are considering all possible legal actions.

None of these allegations have been proven in court.

980 CFPL has made multiple attempts to contact Randy Warden regarding the documents.

— With files from 980 CFPL Jacquelyn Lebel