Seating was at a premium in the press room at the East York Civic Centre this week as Justice Denise Bellamy kicked off part two of her headline-grabbing probe into the past workings of the city's computer operations. In fact, the media horde snapped up most of the available chairs in the third-floor audio-video salon three hours before the learned judge made her second opening statement in as many years.
Clearly, Bellamy had deemed the volumes of sworn affidavits that will form the basis of witness testimony and lawyers' questions over the course of the next three months so potentially explosive that journalists were given an embargoed head start to pore over the stack of hefty binders before she put them into the public domain.
And the contents certainly lived up to expectations - particularly the statements provided by former Toronto treasurer Wanda Liczyk on pages 54 through 58 in the last section of Volume 1. There, Liczyk, who last year earned $320,849 as vice-president of Toronto Hydro, confessed that she had a two-year love affair with the man she later hired to design a computerized tax-billing system for the old city of North York.
It was there that the blond CA toiled for former mayor Mel Lastman before they moved on to bigger and better things at the amalgamated megacity of Toronto in 1998. Once installed as chief financial officer in the Big Smoke, Liczyk saw to it that the tax system her one-time paramour had developed, not a more popular, locally developed one, was put in place. And one Michael Saunders would return home to Rhode Island $2.3-million richer for the time he spent here.
"In hindsight, I realize that my friendship with Michael Saunders may have created the appearance that work was given and continued to be given... because of the friendship," Liczyk said in her affidavit. "I do not believe that it was."
Of course. The former treasurer said pretty much the same thing on the witness stand during the first phase of Bellamy's inquiry last year when concerns were raised about all the wining, dining and hockey-game-watching she did with Dash Domi, the MFP Financial Services sales rep who won a $1.2-million commission for securing a computer leasing contract with the city of Toronto.
And the best may be yet to come when Liczyk takes the witness stand.
But whatever that examination reveals will come as no shock to Doug Elliott and Lynn Elliott. They've been on Liczyk's case since 1997 in old North York, where she played a major role in their million-dollar family home being auctioned off for half its appraised value to recover $23,000 in unpaid property taxes.
When the Elliotts found out their McGlashan Road abode had been sold without so much as a word of notification, they immediately paid $50,000 into the courts to cover the back taxes and any additional costs or penalties and began petitioning the new city of Toronto council to overturn the sale.
But with help from Lastman's office, Liczyk mounted a counter-campaign, arguing that the developer who had purchased the home could sue the city if the deal was undone. Never mind that the city ran up almost $600,000 in legal bills in its bid to quash the lawsuit the Elliotts filed against City Hall claiming they were the victims of fraud.
Former councillor Anne Johnston took up the Elliotts' cause in 2001, but she came up one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed. The deed to the Elliott home was transferred to Lone Star Realty, and Johnston began a campaign for a public inquiry, claiming Liczyk and other senior staff misled council to facilitate the controversial sale.
While that effort went for naught, Johnston insists it was the first red flag signalling that all was not well. Then came Bellamy's probe of the MFP deal and the of hiring of outside consultants like Saunders and several others who, the city auditor has reported, were paid huge fees without proper authorization or accounting.
The saga continues.