Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he is "very surprised" to learn that one of his friends who also worked as an occasional driver for him is facing drug-related charges.
Alessandro (Sandro) Lisi, 35, was arrested on Tuesday evening in connection with an investigation that saw police execute a search warrant at a dry-cleaning shop on Wincott Drive and Lisi's family home.
Police say Lisi faces a drug trafficking charge, as well as charges of possession of property obtained by crime, possession of marijuana and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
Lisi appeared in court on Wednesday. He was granted bail, which was set at $5,000.
Jamshid Bahrami, 47, faces five charges in connection with the same investigation.
Lisi is a friend of Ford and has served as an occasional driver for the mayor.
"I’m surprised, I’m very surprised," Ford said to reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Ford said Lisi was "a good guy and I don’t throw my friends under the bus."
The mayor said that Lisi was on the "straight and narrow," and he had never seen him drink or use drugs.
"So, I’m surprised, I’m actually shocked," he said.
Ford must stay focused, councillors say
Ford made his comments to reporters at a gas station in Etobicoke, a few hours before he was to depart for Austin, Texas, on city business.
At city hall, several councillors said they expected the mayor to stay focused on his job.
Coun. Michelle Berardinetti said she believed that "as long as the business of the city gets done, that’s what the residents of Toronto want to see."
Coun. Gary Crawford, who is going on the Austin trip himself, said he was hoping “this latest controversy” didn’t follow along with the mayor and the councillors.
The mayor’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, said the arrest involving Lisi would only be an issue on the Austin trip if the media made it one.
“If the media wants to overshadow it, that’s going to be their choice,” he said.
The councillor said he was not familiar with Lisi.
“I’ve never met him, I don’t know him, never talked to the guy, and I support the police investigation. That’s my comment,” he said.
Coun. James Pasternak told reporters that the city staff he had spoken to did not know Lisi and thus “it just doesn’t seem to be connected in any meaningful way to the mayor’s office.”
Mayor chides media
Ford also expressed frustration with the media on Wednesday, saying he did not like seeing reporters near his property.
"You know what bothers me is you guys coming to my house, my front door. That's pretty bad," he said.
"Don’t come to my front door again, I’d appreciate that. I don’t go to your front door, don’t go to my front door," added Ford, who has had a testy relationship with the media at times.
In the spring, the Toronto Star and the U.S. gossip website Gawker both reported that someone had been shopping a video that allegedly showed the mayor using crack cocaine.
Ford denied both using crack cocaine and the video’s existence.
The Star has reported that Lisi had been searching for the alleged video.
3 years of controversy
The reports about the alleged drug video made headlines across the country and even became fodder for late-night talk-show hosts on U.S. television.
Ford, 44, was elected mayor three years ago, after serving as a city councillor in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke.
During his time as mayor, Ford has often made headlines both for his work at Toronto City Hall and his life outside of it.
And aside from the recent questions about the alleged drug video, Ford has faced other high-profile challenges during his time in office.
Last year, a conflict-of-interest ruling nearly saw him removed from office, though Ford appealed a judge’s ruling and held onto his job.
The mayor also faced a defamation lawsuit that was eventually dismissed in court.