Toronto

Mayor Ford defends dinner with controversial promoter

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on Wednesday defended his dinner with a controversial campaign supporter, a man the Courts in 2010 declared a fraudster.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on Wednesday defended his dinner with a controversial campaign supporter, a man the courts in 2010 declared a fraudster.

CBC News first reported details of the private dinner earlier in the day.

During a planned event Ford held a rare scrum with reporters and admitted that Johnathan Vrozos had won a 'Dinner with the Mayor' prize during a golf tournament fundraiser.  "If someone bids on it, I don't check their background," said Ford.

Ford had dinner on Friday Feb. 4, 2011 with Vrozos, according to the mayor's daytimer released to the public through a freedom of information request.

Vrozos is an Toronto entertainment promoter who has wound up at the centre of a number of high profile police investigations, and was even found to have acted fraudulently by two Ontario courts.

Ontario's Court of Appeal ruled last September  that Vrozos defrauded the Wahta bottled-water company out of hundreds of thousands of dollars during the Toronto SARS Relief concert featuring the Rolling Stones back in 2003.

In its ruling the court ordered him to pay back $800,000 over "numerous instances in which Vrozos took and kept money that belonged to Wahta" citing Vrozos for "two especially egregious examples" including driving off with a car trunk laden with close to half a million dollars in coins, and his failure to fulfil a deal on bottle-water distribution at the SARS concert.

The information about Vrozos' past didn't seem to matter to the mayor when he was asked about the dinner meeting.

"There was a fundraiser at a golf tournament and we fundraised money for my campaign," Ford told reporters.  "So if someone bids on it I don't check their background and I went out for lunch like I committed to."

The mayor wouldn't take any further questions on the matter.

Vrozos also used to co-own Toronto's Peel Pub and was targeted in 2003 as part of Project Ora, an RCMP probe into organized crime in downtown night clubs.  Vrozos was never charged.  But he met with an undercover police officer who was posing as a money-launderer and helped refer the officer to now-disgraced Bay Street lawyer Peter Shoniker who was charged, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

In the same 2003 Project Ora investigation, Vrozos was caught on wiretaps discussing payoffs  to police officers.  The Crown alleged that Vrozos paid thousands of dollars in illegal payments to Toronto police officer Billy McCormack in exchange for the promise of police help fixing liquor licence issues.  

Vrozos was never charged. McCormack was charged, but that case was eventually dismissed in August of 2010 due to delays getting to trial.

Coun. Adam Vaughan said Wednesday Ford has shown a case of poor judgment.

"He keeps stepping into these grey areas and not sensing that here may be a problem - and grey areas are cause for concern and I think he should be concerned, and simply dismissing it as not an issue doesn't make me feel comfortable," Vaughan said.

Vaughan says the mayor needs to be clear about where he stands when it comes to meeting people like Vrozos.

Vrozos' lawyer Gary Caplan told CBC News on Tuesday that his client would have nothing to say.

"I have spoken to my client and he instructs me to advise you that he does not wish to respond to your inquiries," said Caplan. 

 

With files from Jamie Strashin