Thunder Bay

Crown, defence make final arguments in Hobbs extortion trial

The Crown and defence made their final arguments Thursday as the extortion trial against former Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs, his wife Marisa, and city resident Mary Voss came to a close.

Decision expected on February 20, 2020

Closing arguments in the extortion trial against former Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs, his wife Marisa, and city resident Mary Voss took place Thursday. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

The Crown and defence made their final arguments Thursday as the extortion trial against former Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs, his wife Marisa, and city resident Mary Voss came to a close.

Keith Hobbs, Marisa Hobbs, and Voss are each facing a charge of extortion over their alleged attempt to force another person to purchase a house for Voss.

Assistant Crown attorney Peter Keen spoke first on Thursday, saying Keith Hobbs made a direct threat against the alleged victim by giving copies of the evidence to Craig Loverin, a friend of the victim.

Hobbs told Loverin to bring the evidence to the victim, which constituted an implicit and explicit threat, Keen told court.

Marisa Hobbs was part of the threat, Keen said, while Voss was a party to it; Voss didn't, however, make any direct threats against the victim herself, although she was aware of Keith Hobbs's actions and supported them.

In his closing arguments, Keen spoke of the "separation agreement" that was drafted up, which was to be kept secret and stated the evidence against the victim would be surrendered when they bought house for Voss.

"That's not a separation agreement," Keen told court. "That's an extortion agreement."

"Keith and Marisa Hobbs were driving the bus," Keen said Thursday in court. "Mary Voss was just along for the ride."

In court, Keen also noted there isn't any evidence that Keith and Marisa Hobbs stood to personally benefit from the victim's purchase of a house for Voss.

The possibility of that was raised by OPP Det. Insp. Martin Graham, who was the lead investigator on the extortion case, and interviewed the accused.

In those interviews, which were shown in court, Graham alleged the financial situation that Keith and Marisa Hobbs were in was a driving factor behind the extortion attempt; they wanted Voss to get a house so she could borrow money against it, and lend it to them.

However, Keen pointed out the Crown didn't bring it up during trial. In any case, Keen told court Thursday that personal benefit isn't a requirement when it comes to matters of extortion.

Keen also said that there were 28 days between the creation of the evidence — which was comprised of a number of videos showing the victim — and the start of negotiations about the house purchase.

During that time, Keen said, Keith and Marisa Hobbs actively manipulated the victim.

The accused, Keen said, never had any intention of going to police about the victim's criminal activity, despite their earlier testimony. The settlement agreement was evidence of this, he said: it was designed to silence those affected by the victim's behaviour.

The agreement essentially provided a $429,000 incentive to not go to the police (that was the final price of the house to be purchased).

Further, Keen questioned earlier testimony by the accused that they didn't show the victim the videos. However, if that was true, the victim would not have known about them, as they were made in secret, and the victim's text messages indicate they had no knowledge of the videos.

Keen asked the court for a conviction for both Keith and Marisa Hobbs, saying direct and indirect evidence is available showing they engaged in extortion.

For Voss, however, that evidence is circumstantial.

Brian Greenspan, lawyer for Keith and Marisa Hobbs, spoke at length about the character of the alleged victim in his submissions.

The defence witnesses were decent, law-abiding members of the community, Greenspan said, while the lead Crown witness — the victim — is corrupt and immoral, with a history of buying silence.

Evidence showed, Greenspan said, that Keith and Marisa Hobbs only dealt with the victim as they sought professional advice on a deal involving CIBC.

When things get tough, the victim manages to smooth them over, Greenspan said, adding that the victim is 'in a haze," due to their heavy alcohol consumption, and any information gleaned from them is suspect.

The victim was very controlling of Voss, and her fear of police given her upbringing in Ghana was "logical." Meanwhile, Keith Hobbs told Voss he'd keep her safe, so there was no reason for Voss to go to the police right away.

The matter comes down to a marital dispute, not extortion, Greenspan told court. And as far as the evidence of the victim's criminal activities, Greenspan said the victim remembered what they did regardless of the evidence the accused had.

The victim claimed in text messages they were being extorted by a number of people at various times, Greenspan said. And discussions about the purchase of a house for Voss began before the victim met Keith and Marisa Hobbs.

"There was no extortion here," Greenspan said. "There was no crime here."

And finally, George Joseph, attorney for Voss, gave his closing statements.

The victim's testimony, Joseph said, was unreliable. They're able to remember things that make others look bad, but forget the things that make them look bad.

Trying to make sense of the victim's actions, Joseph said, "is like trying to nail jello to the wall."

Joseph testified that the victim intimidated Voss, and the latter never had any intention of harming the victim.

The victim, Joseph told court, feels the law doesn't apply to them, and acts with impunity. He suggested it should be the victim charged with extortion, as they pay people off.

Voss, however, didn't extort anyone, or even encourage it, Joseph said; she didn't assist Keith and Marisa Hobbs in any way.

Rather, Voss was trying to get out of a relationship, in an "unsophisticated" way.

"There was no crime here," Joseph told court.

The matter is scheduled to return to court on Feb. 20, 2020, when Justice Fletcher Dawson is expected to hand down a decision.

Delayed start

Thursday's proceedings were delayed due to Keith and Marisa Hobbs being absent from the courtroom at the scheduled start time.

Court heard the absence was due to their still being an hour south of Wawa; the pair had travelled to Toronto earlier in the week, and were delayed in their return to Thunder Bay due to Wednesday's weather-related closure of Highway 17 between Wawa and Batchawana.

Court was stood down for a time to allow Keith and Marisa Hobbs time to reach Wawa. Once there, they called in and listened to the proceedings over the phone.

"We apologize for the weather," Keith Hobbs said via phone after arriving in Wawa and calling in.