Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said he would not pass judgment on loans city Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti received from a pair of Toronto real estate investors until he speaks with him — but says he would not have taken such loans himself.
The mayor's comments come after a CBC News investigation first revealed that Mammoliti received at least $275,000 in mortgage loans from a pair of real estate investors who owned billboards along Highway 401.
When Ford was asked Friday whether he would have done the same thing, he said: "Ridiculous."
"I don't work that way," he told reporters. "You guys know that."
Earlier Friday, Mammoliti issued a statement saying the loans were "of a personal business matter" involving his ex-wife.
He claimed the billboard applications were in relation to upgrades to "already existing signs which were in need of repair and would contribute to the revitalization of my community of which I remain greatly focused on."
However, minutes from meetings of his community council show that of those five sign applications Mammoliti backed between 2004 and 2009, three were for entirely new billboards. The other two were to upgrade existing poster billboards into "tri-vision" types where the image rotates between three advertisements.
The businessman who brought the first two billboard applications, in 2004 and 2006, later loaned Mammoliti $200,000 in late 2007. A second businessman who brought the other three applications, in 2009, had loaned Mammoliti $75,000 by mid-2011, court and property records show.
Mammoliti also claimed Friday that the loans involved "a company owned and operated by my now ex-wife."
In fact, the loans were granted to two companies, according to property records: Aribella Property Management and 1195407 Ontario Inc. Mammoliti's sworn financial statements submitted to court in October list him as a 50 per cent shareholder in both corporations.
Loans from individuals to councillors are not prohibited by the conduct rules or laws governing Toronto politicians, and whether they must be disclosed is a grey area, according to experts in the field.
'Optics aren't right,' Holyday says
When the billboards in question came up for debate at the Etobicoke York community council in 2009, Coun. Doug Holyday, now Toronto's deputy mayor, wanted more information about the applications and said he would ask the city's integrity commissioner to look into the matter.
At the time, the commissioner said it was not an integrity matter, Holyday told CBC News on Friday.
"The integrity commissioner told me that councillors were elected to make decisions. And some you like, and some you don't like. So it's not an integrity matter if you think they've made a dumb choice," he said.
Holyday said he did not plan to go to the integrity commissioner regarding Mammoliti's loans, but he said the "optics aren't right."
"I would personally not seek loans from anybody we're doing business with here at the city," he said. "And maybe there's nothing wrong with it, but I guess, it just doesn't look as good as it could."
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But Coun. Adam Vaughan said he didn't think the loans were appropriate, under his interpretation of the city's Code of Conduct.
He said he hasn't filed a formal complaint, but it is "something the integrity commissioner will have to take a look at."
Mammoliti should also "make a full disclosure of his financial dealings with people who have had applications in front of the city," Vaughan added.
"When it's a private relationship like this with public business on the line, if it's not a clear conflict of interest, it's certainly an apparent conflict of interest," he said. "And it should be avoided."
Mammoliti was critical in his statement of CBC and the Toronto Star, which published a story about the loans in its Friday edition.
"To blatantly issue a story that has no relevance to my job and involves my family and personal relationships I find to be in very poor taste," the statement reads.
Mammoliti did not respond to interview requests made by the CBC prior to airing the story.
Mammoliti's complete statement
The complete text of Coun. Mammoliti's statement issued Friday is here:
"I have supported hundreds of first and third party signs throughout my career both in my community and throughout the City of Toronto and will continue to do so.
The sign applications the CBC and Toronto Star refer to were for upgrading already existing signs, which were in need of repair and would contribute to the revitalization of my community of which I remain greatly focused on.
The CBC and Toronto Star have reported that there was clearly no conflict in my dealings on this matter as a Councillor. The loans issued were of a personal business matter involving a company owned and operated by my now ex-wife and the repayment of such loans have been dealt with as part of our divorce, which is still ongoing.
To the best of my knowledge the Tradesea International loan has been paid out in full with interest. While I accept challenges about my decision making as a Councillor, to blatantly issue a story that has no relevance to my job and involves my family and personal relationships I find to be in very poor taste. I respectfully request to leave my personal dealings and my family out of the media."