An Ontario judge has acquitted Alexander "Sandro" Lisi, the one-time driver of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, of drug charges after rendering a tour-de-force ruling with references to Howard Hughes's ill-fated Spruce Goose transport plane and Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing.
In his 21-page judgment, Justice Ramez Khawly slammed the credibility of the former undercover officer who was the key witness in the Crown's case against Lisi and Etobicoke dry cleaner Jamshid Bahrami, who was also cleared of all charges.
Justice Khawly accused Detective Ross Fernandes of engaging in a "persistent pattern of deception" and said he could not rely on evidence that was, at points, "too pat, too predictable, too convenient."
The case was always about much more than the "fairly routine" trafficking and possession charges that turned "super nova" under the media glare.
It came out of a major police investigation into Ford and those around him after revelations in the spring of 2013 of the now-infamous video showing the former mayor smoking crack. The charges were laid in October 2013.
What resulted for Lisi, a seeming fixture in Ford's life back then, was "blanket" surveillance, with officers shadowing him around the clock, recording his movements from a camera on a light pole that was trained on the driveway of his house, affixing a GPS system on his Range Rover, and tapping his phone. Aerial surveillance was said to be so intrusive that neighbors complained.
"It would be naive to suggest that Lisi was being investigated in a vacuum. His apparent close connection with the then-mayor of Toronto were of primordial interest to the police," wrote the judge. "They were after big game."
Enter Fernandes who, posing as "Sean," befriended Bahrami, who has a license to possess, use, and grow medical marijuana, and proceeded to ensnare him in "pedestrian" and "unimaginative" ways. By just leaving Zig-Zag rolling papers in the pocket of a shirt to be laundered at Richview Cleaners, the officer sparked a conversation about smoking weed with Bahrami. According the officer's notes, Bahrami said he could supply a "QP" as quickly as the next day, at a cost of $700 to $750.
The judge was incredulous, asking "whether a man who has enough wherewithal to run a small business [would] be that dim, that unguarded, that trusting as to be that open to someone he had just laid eyes on?"
"Is that man, Bahrami, that needy, that lonely, so impaired by the consumption of government sanctioned marijuana, so wracked with pain that basic protective judgement is non-existent?" the judge asked.
"Beyond that, let me get this straight. Bahrami says 'Can I help you?' and the immediate response is 'Can I get a quarter pound of marijuana?' What kind of investigative technique is that? Is that the way you start getting the guy to trust you?"
One day later, Sean returned and, over a cigarette, Bahrami is said to divulge his supplier, "Sandro, you know, Rob Ford's bodyguard."
About a month after that, Sean went to the cleaners and exchanged $900 for half a pound of marijuana. Lisi arrived an hour later, stayed about 20 minutes and was arrested as he left, with $900 in his pocket.
The problem, said the judge, is that there is no evidence that places Lisi at Richview Cleaners preceding his arrest, thus raising doubt about whether he was the supplier. Bahrami, the judge concluded, was "basically brow beaten and told what to do" in this affair, making it impossible to believe he was the supplier.
And so, on Friday, Lisi, who was once chased up and down Bay Street by a pack of reporters, came out of the Old City Hall courthouse with a smile on his face.
He told television cameras he was "relieved" by the outcome, thanked the judge, and was later photographed by NOW magazine apparently smoking a joint (he has a medical marijuana license, the magazine reported) on the rooftop of City Hall.
Jacob Stillman, Bahrami's lawyer, told VICE his client is elated and hopes to get back to normalcy. "He was very much a dupe of the police for the purposes of achieving a very different purpose and that was to go after Rob Ford, and anyone associated with Rob Ford," said Stillman. "My client was essentially Ford bait."
Lisi still faces a charge of extortion for allegedly trying to coerce a gang member who was peddling the crack video to media outlets.
By Natalie Acoba - Vice/May 11, 2015
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