Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's friend faces drug charges
Alessandro Lisi charged with trafficking, possession of marijuana
Alessandro (Sandro) Lisi, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s friend and occasional driver, has been charged with possession and trafficking of marijuana, police confirmed this morning.
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Police have also charged Lisi, 35, with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and possession of the proceeds of crime. He was released on Wednesday on $5,000 bail.
Another man, Jamshid Bahrami, 47, was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine, three counts of trafficking marijuana and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
The men appeared Wednesday at Old City Hall courthouse.
Confirmation of the charges came the morning after police searched a dry-cleaning business in west Toronto and the Lisi family's home.
CBC News has also learned that Lisi had been under surveillance for several months before his arrest, with police picking up conversations and encounters with several people — including the mayor.
Mayor Ford spoke to reporters just after 1 p.m. on Wednesday, and said he was "surprised" about the charges against Lisi, whom he described as a friend.
"He’s a good guy," said Ford. "And I don’t throw my friends under the bus. Like I said he’s straight and narrow, never once seen the guy drink, never seen him once do drugs.”
Ford also criticized members of the news media for gathering outside his house.
“That’s very low if you ask me.”
Ford then headed to the airport for a business trip taking him to Austin, Texas, to promote Toronto's music industry.
Coun. Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, told CBC News on Wednesday that he has never met Lisi and supports the police investigation.
Lisi was taken into custody just after 7:15 a.m. ET Tuesday after officers in plainclothes and unmarked cruisers arrived at the Richview Cleaners, located at Eglinton Avenue and Wincott Drive in the neighbourhood of Etobicoke.
They left carrying one plastic bin, but it was unclear whether any items were inside.
A short time later, police entered and searched the house where Lisi lives near Dixon Road and Kipling Avenue. It is believed to be owned by his parents.
Police were inside the house and garage around 4 a.m. A police dog accompanied an officer inside the house twice.
Officers in six cars left the residence shortly before 5 a.m. It was unclear whether any residents were home at the time.
Lisi’s lawyer Domenic Basile had no comment when contacted by CBC News on Wednesday morning, before police announced the charges.
Lisi was granted $5,000 bail with conditions on Wednesday afternoon. He must remain in Ontario, keep only one cellphone and have no contact with the co-accused, Bahrami.
Lisi dodged members of the media after his bail hearing, leading reporters on a wild chase around Old City Hall. He ducked into a bar and into the Eaton Centre before finally jumping into a cab. At one point, Lisi took a swing at one of the photographers pursuing him, CBC's Steven D'Souza reported.
Business owners in the shopping plaza where the dry cleaners is located told CBC News on Wednesday that Bahrami, who they know as "Jay," runs and lives in the shop.
"Wow, I was talking to this guy every day," said a man who arrived at the shop with a bundle of clothes. The shop remained closed at noon.
Hours earlier at 3 a.m., police had taped off the area around the shop. Plainclothes police entered and searched the premises.
The Toronto Star previously reported that Lisi had been searching for a video that allegedly showed the mayor smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine.
The scandal broke in May, when reporters from the Star and the U.S. website Gawker reported they were shown such a video.
At a news conference, Ford said, "I do not use crack cocaine" and called the allegations related to the video "ridiculous."
CBC News has not seen the video and cannot verify its contents or existence.