A Toronto councillor who helped two real estate investors get permission to place billboards on their properties and later accepted loans from the businessmen has other links to the outdoor advertising industry in the city.

Giorgio Mammoliti has received political contributions from people affiliated with the industry, supported numerous applications for billboards and, in 2009, attempted to have his ward designated as a "special sign district" where all outdoor signs would require the approval of the local business improvement association.

Billboard brouhaha

Watch video of the 2009 community council meeting during which now Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday threatens to call in Toronto's integrity commissioner.

The politician's ties to the industry were disclosed this week by a CBC News investigation that revealed that Mammoliti successfully urged fellow members of a west-end community council to support applications for outdoor billboards on properties right next to Highway 401. Mammoliti ultimately received a total of $275,000 in mortgage loans from the businessmen who applied for the billboards. In each case the loans were granted well after the Etobicoke York community council voted to allow the signs.

Mammoliti issued a statement Friday that criticized the initial CBC report and said it had "no relevance" to his job as a councillor, was in "poor taste" and related to personal matters. Experts consulted by CBC said the loans don't appear to violate the rules or any laws governing Toronto politicians.

Three of the applications Mammoliti brought forward at a November 2009 community council meeting were for proposed billboards on properties owned by realtor Ralph Nardi, who had issued a $75,000 mortgage loan to Mammoliti and his then-wife by mid-2011, according to property and court records. Mammoliti urged his fellow councillors to approve the applications because he said they conformed with a new outdoor sign strategy proposed by the Emery Village Business Improvement Area, or BIA.

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The BIA was seeking to have its area declared a "special sign district," where all applicants for outdoor billboards in the ward would be required to pay a fee to the BIA and include its logo on signs. Blair Murdoch, president of outdoor-advertising firm Allvision Canada, addressed the community council at that meeting and indicated that he had been retained by the BIA. Their proposal was an "innovative billboard improvement initiative," Murdoch told the councillors.

Mammoliti, who is on the BIA's board of directors, did not disclose to the meeting that his constituency office and the BIA shared the same office space in a building owned by Nardi (the businessman declined comment when contacted previously by CBC News). 

Bid for special sign district

The billboard applications on behalf of Nardi were approved by the community council just one month before city council voted in December 2009 to make major changes to its sign by-laws — by-laws that govern an industry generating at least $140 million in annual revenues in Toronto, according to an expert report prepared for the city. The amendments put in place a new tax on third-party billboards and moved the initial approval process for signs from community councils to an independent civilian committee.

Mammoliti, with Murdoch again representing the business association, asked city council to exempt Emery Village from the new regulations. The decision was referred to city staff, who declined to grant special status to Mammoliti's ward.

mi-401-billboards

Two of the billboards in question are on neighbouring addresses now owned by realtor Ralph Nardi. Nardi's company lent Mammoliti and his then-wife $75,000 and handled the sale of their home. (CBC)

Sandra Farina, executive director of the Emery Village BIA, said the association was attempting to improve the standards of outdoor signs in its ward, which has large numbers of industrial businesses.

"We wanted them to look uniform and to be maintained," she said. Murdoch was retained because of his experience and knowledge about the outdoor sign industry, she explained. "He was a lobbyist for the Emery Village BIA."

Murdoch and another family member later donated a total of $4,250 to Mammoliti’s 2010 mayoralty campaign (he eventually ended that campaign and was re-elected to city council). Murdoch did not respond to requests by CBC News seeking comment.

Farina added that she was unaware that three of the billboard applications her association supported at the November 2009 community council meeting were made on behalf of Nardi, the BIA's landlord.

At the same community council meeting, another billboard permit was approved for a building on St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto. Mammoliti recused himself from the debate, citing a conflict of interest. "My family owns property along that strip," he informed his colleagues.

In fact, Mammoliti co-owned the building with his then-wife through a company they had incorporated. They sold the property a year later, in November 2010, according to land-registry records. The investor who bought it told CBC News that one of the selling points was the rooftop advertising sign, which he was informed would bring in $1,000 a month.

If you have more information on this story, or other investigative tips, please email investigations@cbc.ca