Nfld. & Labrador

Andrew Furey, a Liberal supporter list and a convicted killer: John Abbott wants answers

John Abbott says Andrew Furey used Dwight Ball's off-limits list of contacts to form his supporter base, and the proof is a convicted murderer with ties to Ball's family being invited to his official launch.

Brandon Phillips was invited to Furey campaign launch, Abbott says through Dwight Ball's contact list

Andrew Furey held his campaign launch at the Alt Hotel on March 3. Multiple sources have told CBC News that Brandon Phillips was invited to attend, but could not because he is serving a life sentence for murder. (Douglas Gaulton / Canadian Press)

John Abbott wants answers as to how Brandon Phillips, a convicted murderer and ex-boyfriend of Dwight Ball's daughter, was invited to Andrew Furey's campaign launch before he was a confirmed candidate.

CBC News has heard from multiple sources, including the premier himself, that an email exists showing Phillips was invited to Furey's campaign launch. CBC News has not seen the email in question.

Abbott, the Liberal leadership candidate, is accusing his opponent of using "protected data" compiled by Dwight Ball's team in 2013 to help build his supporter base.

"I demand that an immediate independent and transparent investigation be conducted before voting commences on July 28," Abbott stated in an open letter sent to the media Thursday, five days before voting begins.

Abbott has not yet filed a formal complaint with the election committee.

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, the Furey campaign rebutted the claims and pointed to a previous formal complaint made by Abbott in March about Furey contacting Liberal supporters before his official launch.

"Mr. Abbott made this exact complaint in March and it was thoroughly reviewed and dismissed by the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador at that time," wrote Furey spokesperson Meghan McCabe.

"That may be why Mr. Abbott is not filing the same complaint at this time, but rather has released an open letter."

Ball raised concerns about Furey's contacts

Ball, for his part, also raised concerns with the leadership committee, wanting to know how the Furey campaign could have gotten their hands on the list, if they did in fact have it.

That was in March.

Ball told election committee co-chair John Samms that he had heard from several people who said they were contacted by the Furey campaign on email addresses they used in 2013, when they put their support behind Ball's run at the Liberal leadership.

"Premier Ball shared with me that he had reason to believe one of the individuals contacted through the mass email was Brandon Phillips," Samms wrote in response to questions from CBC last week. "When I asked, Premier Ball stated he had not seen this email but believed it to exist."

Samms said he considered what Ball told him, and whether it should trigger any action by the election committee.

"I had no reasonable evidence of the purported email's actual existence," Samms wrote. "I determined that, even if the email existed, it was irrelevant and ultimately could only serve as superficial gossip in this context."

Brandon Phillips, 31, is serving life in prison for the murder of Larry Wellman in 2017. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Phillips is serving life in prison without chance of parole until 2027 for shooting bystander Larry Wellman during a robbery at the Captain's Quarters Hotel in 2017.

He was in a long-term relationship with Ball's daughter, Jade, at the time of the shooting. A CBC News investigation revealed it was Dwight Ball himself who went to police with information that led to Phillips being arrested.

All that aside, Abbott figures there is only one explanation for how a man sitting in prison on murder charges could have been invited to his opponent's campaign launch.

John Abbott wants to know if rules were broken and advantages gained by his opponent's alleged use of a list compiled in 2013 by Dwight Ball. (CBC)

He wants to know if Furey's campaign accessed Ball's data before he was confirmed as a candidate, and if that was a violation of the rules of the leadership race.

The 2013 leadership election set out rules for using the party's internal database. Candidates are not supposed to use the information in the database until they are confirmed to be candidates.

A complaint had been lodged in March after people began receiving emails inviting them to Furey's campaign launch, before he was an official candidate.

Samms said the committee looked into that complaint, but found no wrongdoing.

Abbott now wants the election committee to commit to a wider probe into what database Furey was working from, how he gained access to it and if that gave his campaign an unfair advantage.

On the night of his campaign launch, Furey denied any wrongdoing.

"The party has already looked at this and said there has been no data breach," he said at the time.  "I want a fair race. I don't want to have someone with their foot on the scales for me." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain

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