lobbying at city hall is a real cutthroat business. Just ask Jeff Lyons, the supposed king of local arm- twisters, who has all manner of connections to the mayor's office, Queen's Park and good old corporate Toronto. Twice in the past year, the guy who likes to be called Brother Jeff has ended up at the heart of high-profile police investigations into alleged incidents of bribery and Municipal Elections Act skullduggery. And on both occasions, it was another municipal affairs consultant -- in competition with the fraternal bagman -- who saw to it that the cops got on his case.
Just this week came the revelation that Lyons was the unnamed lobbyist whose alleged attempt to solicit a $150,000 bribe from Dell Financial Services caused a two-month delay of the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry. The OPP anti-rackets squad checked into the accusations by two Dell employees and decided there wasn't enough evidence to warrant criminal charges, so the inquiry resumed on December 2.
But when the report on the police investigation was entered into evidence at the judicial probe on Monday, December 16, the names of all the people involved became part of the public record. And it was suddenly common knowledge that Frank Carnevale, president of City Hall Group Inc., was the individual who went to the media with an account of his meetings with the Dell execs and for all intents and purposes made the whole investigation necessary.
As luck would have it, the release of the OPP report came barely a week after the same crime squad announced no charges would be laid against Lyons with regard to unrelated allegations that he'd made "third-party" contributions to candidates for city council, in contravention of the Municipal Elections Act. (Lyons was accused of receiving money from a client, giving it to one of his employees, who deposited it in her bank account and then wrote cheques to candidates chosen by the boss.)
The OPP said there was a violation of the act, but it was viewed as "merely technical" since "there was no harm done to the public and no one gained from it." Lyons could not be reached for comment.
The elections act investigation was sparked by an article published in Novae Res Urbis, a municipal affairs bulletin with connections to Urban Intelligence, a consultancy operated by another well-known lobbyist, Bruce Davis. The transcript of Carnevale's October 9 interview with two anti-rackets detectives at the OPP's Downsview detachment gives some interesting insights to the lobbying game.
The cops wanted to talk to Carnevale because he was the guy who tipped off a Toronto Star reporter after hearing two separate accounts of Lyons's meeting with Dell employees Robert Simone and Scott Marentette. It was at that meeting in May 1999 that the lobbyist allegedly told Simone and Marentette that someone he called "Tom" (assumed to be former councillor Tom Jakobek) thought a computer leasing contract then up for tender was worth $150,000. Lyons also allegedly suggested others were prepared to pay more.
Carnevale, who worked as executive assistant to former councillor Dennis Fotinos before starting his consulting business, told the detectives he wasn't surprised when he first heard an account of the meeting from Marentette over a few beers. "Working at City Hall you hear stories like this all the time," Carnevale said in the transcripts. "I'm just saying that it doesn't shock me." The lobbyist said he wouldn't classify his relationship with Lyons as adversarial. "But we're competitors," he added. "There's business I'd like to get, you know."
Carnevale said there's a demand for lobbyists among companies looking for municipal business because "we give our clients the added knowledge of how the city works and how they (politicians) think." Like Lyons, City Hall Group got involved in politics by supporting council candidates with money and advice.
"The last campaign was our first really big one, and I think we were fairly active," Carnevale told the cops. "But we were, you know... open about it. Where we could send people to candidates, we did it," he added. "I gave cheques from City Hall Group. We did whatever we could to help people we thought were centre-right or centre politically, who we thought had a good pro-city, pro-business position."
Carnevale maintained it was "good for our business to develop our relationships and support as many people as we could. We figured it was just business practice." When one of the detectives asked if such practices "would be standard in the lobbyist industry," Carnevale replied: "Oh, absolutely. Absolutely."
Like Simone and Marentette (who it just so happens went to university with one of Carnevale's business associates), the City Hall Group boss assumed the "Tom" Lyons referred to was Jakobek. After all, Jakobek was budget chief when MFP Financial Services was awarded the $43-million computer leasing contract that's now the subject of the aforementioned judicial inquiry.
As the OPP report revealed, Lyons was working for both MFP and Dell Financial when that contract was up for grabs. Carnevale said it was common knowledge that "Tom and Jeff had a close relationship. "They knew each other well," he told the police. "From a political point of view, Tom and Jeff would be on the same spectrum. And I knew they had a relationship, so that's why I say it's not shocking."
Jakobek was not available for comment.
Carnevale noted that at one time "Lyons was looking for another candidate to support in the upcoming (mayoral) election, and that was Tom." In fact, Carnevale went to one of Jakobek's organizational meetings. "Tom was relying on a lot of people Jeff Lyons, Paul Godfrey, whoever, to be supporters, and he had a lot of good supporters," the lobbyist said. "But we also knew that behind the scene people were just saying yes to him sort of to shut him up. I mean, this is local politics," he added. "You hear a lot."
After hearing pretty much the same story from Simone and Marentette about Lyons's meeting with Dell reps, Carnevale urged them to contact the inquiry's legal team. And he introduced Simone to the Toronto Star reporter. Carnevale said he wasn't all that familiar with Lyons's strategies and had no way of knowing whether his competitor did anything illegal. "You just hear things," he advised.
What Carnevale started hearing almost from the moment Lyons's name was mentioned in relation to both the election financing irregularities and the bribery allegations was that "nothing's gonna happen to Jeff. The "big spin" around City Hall was that he's getting off. "He's got friends and they'll make sure of that. You know, it's a bit disheartening when you hear that."
Yup, it's a tough business.