Thunder Bay

Former Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs 'not a credible witness': Crown

Former Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs was "not a credible witness" when he took the stand last week in his extortion trial, assistant Crown attorney Peter Keen said in the written version of his closing arguments in the former mayor's extortion trial.

Closing arguments in extortion trial for Keith Hobbs, Marisa Hobbs, and Mary Voss took place Thursday

A decision in the Hobbs extortion trail is expected on Feb. 20, 2020. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

Former Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs was "not a credible witness" when he took the stand last week in his extortion trial, assistant Crown attorney Peter Keen said in the written version of his closing arguments.

Keith Hobbs, his wife Marisa Hobbs, and city resident Mary Voss are each facing a charge of extortion over their alleged attempts to force another person to buy a house for Voss. The three allegedly threatened to go to the police with criminal allegations against the extortion victim, unless the house was purchased.

Closing arguments in the case were delivered on Thursday.

In the written version of his arguments — copies of which were provided to media — Keen said there is proof of criminal activity on the part of the alleged extortion victim. However, instead of going to the police, the three accused used that proof as leverage to induce the extortion victim to buy a house for Voss, with whom they had been in an on-again, off-again relationship.

The parties had drafted a "separation agreement," which was to be kept secret, and promised that when the house was purchased, all evidence of criminal activity would be surrendered to the victim.

Keen states the agreement "contains an implicit threat that unless [the victim] buys a $429,000 house," the evidence of the victim's criminal activities would be disclosed.

Keen also questioned the accused's version of events. All three have said they never told the victim about the existence of the evidence, and never made any threats.

However, Keen wrote, "if this were true, then [the victim] had no reason to panic, and no reason to try and silence [Voss]."

"While the sequence of events from October 19 to November 20 involve acts by all parties that seems odd, bizarre, improbable and even incredible, there is broad agreement that many of these actions occurred," wrote Keen.

The separation agreement rather proves the victim did know about the evidence, Keen's written arguments state.

He also wrote that of the key live witnesses in the case, only Craig Loverin was deemed credible, who was largely unshaken on cross-examination. The alleged victim, Keith Hobbs and Heli Kijanen are all deemed as suspect witnesses, where credibility becomes a significant issue.

In earlier testimony, Keith Hobbs told court he gave Craig Loverin, a friend of the victim's, copies of the evidence against the victim, and instructed Loverin to give it to the victim.

And while Keith and Marisa Hobbs stated they always wanted Voss to go to the police, the settlement agreement — which was drafted by Keith Hobbs — shows they rather wanted to "silence" her and force the victim to buy the house, Keen wrote.

Keen states that testimony given by Keith Hobbs is suspect, as the former mayor was "not a credible witness."

He also wrote that the alleged victim was not aware of the existence of any videotapes until November 16, 2016, with all of the accused denying telling the victim about the videos. However, the Crown alleges, the only reasonable explanation is that Hobbs told the alleged victim of the videos.

Keen wrote that before November 16, the alleged victim is unwilling to purchase a house outright for Mary Voss. The victim does, however, offer to make a down payment and pay a mortgage on a home on Edward Street, but not gift the actual property to Voss.

That changes after in-person meetings with Keith Hobbs.

It is not until the learning of the existence of the videos, the Crown said, that the alleged victim is willing to buy a house for Voss, free and clear.

Many opportunities to go to police

Keith Hobbs, Keen wrote, had many opportunities to go to the police about the alleged extortion victim's criminal behaviour. He finally did that only after the settlement agreement fell through, and it was apparent Voss wasn't getting a house.

Further, Keith Hobbs testified he couldn't go to the police unless Voss came forward too. But, Keen wrote, prior to being elected Thunder Bay's mayor, Keith Hobbs was a police officer in the city for more than three decades.

Keith Hobbs "acknowledged on cross-examination that cases can be proven by independent evidence," Keen wrote, adding that Keith Hobbs acknowledged that the evidence he had was "conclusive proof" of the alleged extortion victim's criminal activity.

A report to the police would have meant Mary Voss was safe from the victim, as the victim would have been put on conditions not to contact her by the courts.

However, the settlement agreement would not have kept Voss safe; it would only have given her a $429,000 incentive to not go to the police.

Keen also questioned the credibility of the victim, who also testified earlier in the trial.

However, Keen also wrote there are reasons to believe the victim's evidence was accurate on many points. For example, the victim claimed he was being extorted, and the separation agreement "reads like an extortion agreement."

Many claims the victim made were also corroborated by other testimony, or text messages, Keen writes.

As for Voss, Keen wrote she never threatened the victim. Keen stated in court that Keith and Marisa Hobbs were "driving the bus," while Voss was "asking for a ride."

"A blackmail-like extortion is an ugly crime to prosecute, because the victim will not be blameless," Keen wrote. "One cannot be extorted for one's good behaviour. The victims of such offences will always have something to hide."

The fact that Keith Hobbs drafted and read out the separation agreement, obtained the USB sticks with incriminating evidence and then threatened the alleged victim to go to police constitutes extortion, Keen wrote.

Marisa Hobbs witnessed the separation agreement, made threats against the alleged victim's professional career, and also had a hand in the negotiations for a house, Keen wrote.

Keen wrote near the end of his submissions that the alleged victim was incontinent of stool, couldn't clean his home, was drinking up to 60 ounces of hard liquor per day, and, "he set fire to his televisions because he believed he was being spied upon."

"He wasn't capable of driving the bus."

Defence counsel

Brian Greenspan and Naomi Lutes, defence counsel for Keith and Marisa Hobbs, started off their written submissions by noting there is no onus upon an accused to explain a false allegation, and that the onus remains on the Crown to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defence said a plausible explanation is that the alleged victim was aware of their actions in the videos that Keith Hobbs had access to on a USB stick, which put them in a bad light.

So, the alleged victim did what they could to protect themselves by signing an agreement for a new house for Voss. However, once the Hobbs' went to the police with criminal allegations about the alleged victim, everything went sour.

After their arrest, the alleged victim said the charges were a result of a "vendetta" from Keith Hobbs. It is within days, the defence alleges, that Loverin makes the extortion allegation to the RCMP.

The defence wrote that the alleged victim entered into the contract, or separation agreement, not because of threats or coercion, but because it was their idea to ensure there was a clause that would see the memory sticks surrendered. 

There is no threat in the separation agreement, writes defence counsel. In fact, the crown's theory, they write, is based on conjecture, speculation and interpretation of isolated text messages and two witnesses who are unreliable.

They claim the crown is putting spin on circumstantial evidence, the same spin that OPP Det. Insp. Martin Graham used in his interviews with the accused.

Defence counsel argues that it is the alleged victim who is driving the bus, and at no point do Keith or Marisa Hobbs ever threaten the alleged victim. They maintain the Hobbs' only wanted to go to the police with complaints about the alleged victim, after they discovered the content of the USB videos.

The defence wrote there were three separate attempts by the alleged victim to provide "cash for silence," which provides the alleged victim with security, but, is also an agreement entered into willingly by the victim at their insistence.

"Keith and Marisa Hobbs perhaps acted foolishly in assisting in the matrimonial resolution," they wrote, "but neither threatened nor extorted (the victim) in any manner."

"They acted on behalf of Mary Voss to obtain recompense for what they believed was fairly owed to her as a result of her domestic partnership."

'No threats'

"There were no threats, there was no inducement, and there was no extortion. The offence with which they have been charged is extortion — not the offence of compounding — not the offence of obstruction of justice."

"To rise to the level of extortion, an individual must have used threats, accusations, menaces, or violence to induce another to do something."

But, it is not extortion, they wrote, to point out to somebody they owe compensation to another individual. A conversation between Marisa Hobbs and Mary Voss does not qualify for extortion. Even a demand from the Hobbs' would not be considered extortion, they wrote.

"Extortion requires the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a threat has been made in order to obtain a benefit."

Greenspan wrote the Hobbs' were never the subject of any complaint before November 19, 2016, and even called them friends before that time.

The defence counsel said part of the Crown's case relies on hearsay from the co-conspirators in the case. While there are some issues with this, "the prosecution must prove that the conspiracy actually existed and that the accused was a probable member in that same conspiracy."

The defence also raised concerns about the evidence of the alleged victim, noting they are a 'jurisprudential poster child' for what is called a Vetrovec caution. It means special attention must be paid to their evidence.

"He is an unsavoury witness. He was a disreputable witness whose testimony is replete with countless inconsistencies and demonstrable perjury. His every word requires special scrutiny," they wrote.

The defence asks the court to be particularly cautious when using evidence provided by Loverin or Kijanen, who are admittedly loyal and biased toward the alleged victim.

The defence submits that Keith and Marisa Hobbs both gave up their rights to remain silent, and testified or were interviewed by police.

If any of the evidence submitted raises a reasonable doubt as to whether Keith and Marisa Hobbs threatened police action, or was a party to a threat against the alleged victim, an acquittal must be entered, writes Greenspan.

While the Crown has issues with the testimony of Keith Hobbs, the defence writes he was credible, consistent, responsive, forthright and avoided argument.

The Crown's case alleges that Keith Hobbs engaged in threats, and not Marisa Hobbs. That, the defence said, shows a a lack of threats in relation to all of the accused.

Victim an 'unimpressive witness'

The Crown witness, the alleged victim, they submit, was an "unimpressive witness." They came to court to simply give their own account of events, and were advancing their own agenda, the defence writes.

"He was argumentative and non-responsive. He was long-winded and prone to self-serving answers," and insisted on providing details and explanation which they he wanted to advance, even if the Crown did not ask for that information.

Defence wrote the agenda was clear: "to exact retribution on Keith and Marisa Hobbs for their role in his arrest and ultimate convictions," noting at times, the alleged victim chuckled or laughed to himself, showing he enjoyed the opportunity to engage in his own fabrications.

The defence also wrote that the evidence was replete with improbabilities, inconsistencies, and demonstrated untruths.

The actions of Keith and Marisa Hobbs, the defence submits, is inconsistent with the existence of an extortion, with the Hobbs' providing a copy of the separation agreement to police immediately.

The defence also contends the Crown is drawing a number of inferences from text messages, which allows for competing interpretations of each message. This, the defence claims, "renders them incapable of supporting a finding of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

The defence also said there must be no competing rational inferences which point away from guilt, when examining the text messages in this case.

Furthermore, the Hobbs', Keith and Marisa, are separately charged and the evidence against them must be assessed separately. There is an absence of evidence, the defence notes, that there is any threat from Marisa Hobbs ever directed toward the alleged victim. There must be an intention to assist the perpetrator, and knowledge of the perpetrators' intention, the defence said.

The defence also charges that none of the key Crown witnesses, being the alleged victim, Loverin or Kijanen are credible or reliable.

The testimony of the alleged victim is of concern, due to "his general morality, including blatantly racist and misogynistic remarks including abusive, vile and vulgar comments, as well as other criminal convictions. He also said that he had not spoken recently to Loverin, while the latter said otherwise.

The defence writes the alleged victim was drunk most of the time, with many key events being hazy or no memory at all, including signing the so-called "fake will."

Buying silence

"[The victim] had a pattern of accusing others of blackmail and extortion," writes Greenspan. There are four specific references to when the victim felt this way, all by the hands of others who were close to them. This leads to trying to "purchase Mary Voss' silence."

The defence also notes the alleged victim has provided conflicting views on how they learned about the existence of videos showing them in a bad light. The victim also created a non-sensical story, the defence noted, where the USB stick with the video was in the hands of a Thunder Bay police officer who owed Keith Hobbs a favour. No action would be taken with the videos until Hobbs gave the officer a signal. That story, the defence said, is false; the Crown agreed.

The other timeline issue raised by the defence is the victim would need to have knowledge of the videos before agreeing to a deal for a new house. "Why would he agree to pay over $400,000 on blind faith?" they ask.

The Crown cannot establish that it was Keith or Marisa Hobbs who showed them the videos, let alone threaten the victim, the defence alleges.

The victim not only wanted the agreement, but had significant input into the agreement, which was eventually drafted by Keith Hobbs. 

The victim was not only "driving the bus" writes Greenspan, but they were following the chosen route. "Cash for silence was his modus operandi."

The victim knew about the videos as early as October 20, 2016, and had already spoken to Voss about a house purchase before that date, perhaps for months, based on testimony from another person in the trial.

Loverin, the defence said, spoke to the RCMP within a week of the alleged victim's arrest. Two days later, Loverin visits the alleged victim in the District Jail, the only visit recorded in the records.

Hobbs testimony 'honest' and 'candid'

The defence spends a large amount of time writing about the evidence of Loverin, but also looks at the testimony of Kajinen. She is "steadfastly loyal" to the alleged victim, receiving substantial financial support from them, including a horse.

Defence describes her as flippant, quick to cast blame on others and make an effort to link events to the alleged extortion, even when, as the defence writes, the events are clearly not connected. Her testimony was also inconsistent with what Loverin had said earlier.

The defence wrote that Kijanen had mixed up the "false story" she was supposed to tell, mixing up the roles of her and Loverin, when they went to get a USB, or get documents signed on November 17, 2016, by Voss.

The defence notes that Keith Hobbs did testify in an "honest, candid, straightforward manner. He was calm and polite with his answers. He made reasonable concessions," wrote the defence, noting that Hobbs did change some responses during cross-examination.

"Keith Hobbs may have advised Loverin that (the victim) was going to jail, but he did not do so for the purpose of inducing a house purchase and was unshaken in this denial."

The defence also notes that the Hobbs' never received any financial benefit from the alleged victim, and refused offers of financial assistance.

"The promise of a $2 million-dollar settlement would be not only appealing, but something they would feel compelled to pursue," wrote the defence, on why the Hobbs' would continue to deal with the alleged victim.

The defence also disagrees that the separation agreement was unnecessary evidence against the alleged victim, and that as soon as the Hobbs' would speak to police, it would cost Voss the house. This helps the defence case, they write, as the Hobbs' would then not void the agreement immediately by reporting the alleged victim to the police the next day.

The defence counters it is reasonable that Hobbs believes the videos alone would have been sufficient evidence to give to police to show the criminal activities of the alleged victim. The separation agreement is more important, the defence wrote.

Timing critical

Requesting that Loverin show the videos to the alleged victim in the abstract, without linking it to the purchase of a home, is not extortion, writes the defence.The indictment on which the Hobbs' and Voss are charged is specific, not general, wrote Greenspan.

"Even if Keith Hobbs suggested that Loverin provide the USB key to [the victim] in order to induce a house purchase (which we say it has not proven), it must further prove that the threat made was a threat to go to the police."

The defence counters that timing of everything is critical in this case, and the threat was made after the alleged victim agreed to have the separation agreement drafted. If the victim was induced to purchase a home because of a threat, they would have stuck to the plan of purchasing the house on Gemstone Drive, the defence alleges.

The defence characterizes Det. Insp. Martin Graham as "bullying, leading, belligerent," adding his "misleading tactics, particularly with Mary Voss, should be of concern with respect to the value of certain aspects of the responses which Mary Voss provided to him."

The defence characterize Graham as having tunnel-vision in terms of what he has chosen to accept, which is the version of events provided by Loverin. The statement also said Graham was objectively leading in his questioning, with Voss appearing to agree to answers for the sake of agreeing.

The defence concludes that Keith and Marisa Hobbs were never accused of extortion, or of any pressure by the alleged victim until November 19, 2016, when the victim was told the police were being called. The theory of the prosecution is speculative, and inconsistent with the actions of the Hobbs', wrote Greenspan.

"There was no plan, no scheme, to obtain a house for Mary Voss of a greater value by leveraging USB keys."

"It is not illegal, let alone extortion, to assist a friend in obtaining a favourable settlement from a former [partner]."

A decision in the case will be handed down on February 20, 2020.