Extortion trial against former Thunder Bay, Ont. mayor begins
The criminal trial against former Thunder Bay, Ont. mayor Keith Hobbs, his wife and a third co-accused began on Monday morning, more than two years after extortion charges were laid.
Hobbs was serving his second of two terms as mayor of the northwestern Ontario city when he was one of three people charged with extortion in 2017. His wife, Marisa, and Mary Voss are also standing trial. The case is being tried before Ontario Superior Court Justice Fletcher Dawson, with no jury.
The trio are accused of attempting to extort the alleged victim, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, to purchase a house for Voss. Keith and Marisa Hobbs had also each been charged with one count of obstruction of justice but those charges were later withdrawn following a preliminary hearing.
The start of the trial was slightly delayed when technical issues with recording the proceedings forced a switch in courtrooms. All three were formally arraigned and each entered pleas of not guilty.
Crown prosecutor Peter Keen delivered his opening statement in the morning, saying extortion is an "ugly crime to prosecute." Keen said there wasn't a relationship between Hobbs and the alleged victim until October 2016, when the couple was having financial difficulty and there was an offer of a $10,000 cheque from the victim.
"Who is driving the bus?" Keen asked, arguing the Hobbs couple led the extortion efforts and the victim was along for the ride.
Keen said there are texts between Marisa Hobbs and Voss, saying they shouldn't ask for money because it could be seen as blackmail or extortion.
The first witness, Craig Loverin, was called to take the stand shortly before an afternoon break. Loverin had known the alleged victim for years prior to the events subject to trial. Loverin said he was growing concerned about the alleged victim's apparent increased alcohol consumption and erratic behaviour.
The victim showed Loverin a will, claiming it to be worth $50 million, but said it was fake. Loverin said he wrote on the document that the will was to be revoked.
Loverin testified that the alleged victim and Voss had known each other since 2014. Voss initially worked for the victim as a cleaner before later living together, he said. Loverin also told the court that tension seemed to be building between the two in the fall of 2016, around the same time the victim and the Hobbs' seemed to be spending more and more time together.
Loverin said he received what he thought was an odd phone call from Keith Hobbs, with Hobbs telling him the then-mayor and retired Thunder Bay police officer received training from a joint task force under the RCMP.
The charges against Hobbs are linked to a previous criminal case against former Thunder Bay police chief J.P. Levesque, who faced charges of obstruction of justice and breach of trust for disclosing to the mayor that he was the subject of an investigation. The charges against Levesque were dismissed in January 2018 following a two-week trial.
With files from Jeff Walters.