Justice Denise Bellamy is starting to run short on patience. And who can blame her. The Superior Court judge was commissioned almost a year ago to probe the city's controversial computer leasing contract with MFP Financial Services. The judicial inquiry was expected to take about 40 days at a cost of $4 million when Toronto council approved it last February. But since then the terms of reference have been expanded to include several related software deals; allegations of bribery caused a two-month delay in proceedings so police could investigate; and more lawyers had to be hired to represent the increasing number of people whose testimony has been deemed crucial to finding out how a contract worth $43 million could end up costing property taxpayers more than $100 million.
These days, the budget for the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry is pegged at $15.5 million. And even the most optimistic inquiry insiders are now starting to acknowledge that it could well be midsummer before the judge finally hands in her report on the whole MFP affair.
This should help explain why Justice Bellamy got more than a little testy this week about some of the antics on display in her chamber at the old East York Civic Centre. Things had been moving along at a pretty decent clip before the Christmas recess. Mayor Mel had been exposed as a shirker, former treasurer Wanda Liczyk had been crowned princess of profanity, and Paul Godfrey's Machiavellian grip on the gonads of local government was coming back into focus.
But in the past two weeks, true progress has slowed to a snail's pace. First Vince Nigro (the former Lastman aide who stepped into an MFP sales job after the company landed the city contract) and now Dash Domi (the hotshot rookie sales rep who used his friendship with Nigro to gain MFP access to the corridors of power at City Hall) have been stricken with a malady that has all the symptoms of terminal amnesia. It has become almost painful to watch the commission's lead counsel, Ron Manes, as he tries to reawaken memories in forgetful minds of past expense account adventures.
Nigro's "I don't remember anything specific about anything in general" is the reigning champion for articulating how badly the brain cells that control recollection can be damaged by pursuits charged to the company credit card. But, in terms of encore presentations, Domi's "I have no clue" seems to be doing quite nicely right now. Which is why Justice Bellamy as much as ordered Manes and the lawyers representing Domi, MFP and the city to find a way to cut through all the crap and maybe knock three weeks off the inquiry's projected running time.
"I don't think Toronto ratepayers or taxpayers have an interest in having the inquiry spend a week or however many days it would take going through every single detail of Mr. Domi's expenses," the judge said Tuesday. She's probably right, considering the guy billed MFP for more than $100,000 in business expenses during the time he was hawking computer leases to Liczyk and her associates in the city's information technology department.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that Domi has confessed that many of the expenses he submitted weren't for what most people would consider legitimate business purposes. And the names listed on the expense sheet aren't necessarily an accurate reflection of who might have been at the bar, restaurant, strip club, private box at the hockey rink or on the charter jet flight to a Leafs game in Philadelphia. Sometimes Domi can't seem to remember if he was actually in some of the places his credit card receipts suggest he was.
"Be mindful of the fact that ultimately I have to make findings of credibility," Bellamy said with what sounded like a note of warning in her voice. "I am tasked with the obligation of looking at how this (computer leasing scandal) came to be," she advised. "One of the situations that has come up is whether there was an undue entertaining of city officials that might have put them in a position that might have created a difficulty for them in appearing to be objective.
"I think what I would like -- with Mr. Domi as the main person to do this with -- is to get some sense of how much entertainment was actually done with people from the city and how much was not," the judge added. "I would just like to find some way to do it so that we're not having to go through every single expense. Let's get cracking here and get Mr. Domi off the stand."
The lawyers were then sent off to find a better way of extracting useful information from the salesman who was paid $1.2 million for bringing the city's business to MFP -- even though his own testimony tends to indicate that other people did a lot of the work. That much Domi can remember.
"I won't hold you to 15 minutes in case you need 17 or 23," Bellamy told the solicitors as they departed her court at 10:30 am. "I'd rather that we not take too long on this, all right?"
The inquiry resumed at 2 pm. The clock went, "Ka-ching, ka-ching."
Manes announced that he and his friends had agreed to a "more focused" procedure. It would concentrate on 48 receipts Domi submitted for supposedly entertaining former treasurer Liczyk (a VP at Toronto Hydro now), former IT director Jim Andrew (at the province these days), former budget chief Tom Jakobek (a registered mayoral candidate), Godfrey and his son Rob (Pop's running City Hall from Blue Jays Way and teaching Junior the ropes), Jeff Lyons (the lobbyist/fundraiser who has been the subject of two police investigations in the past year). And "Cousin Vinnie" Nigro, of course. He's between jobs at the moment and will no doubt benefit from all this attention.
"Let's get cracking," Bellamy cried, and her lead counsel launched into the 18 receipts Domi had submitted with Jakobek's name scribbled on them.
The sales rep had a vague recollection of a lunch he and his boss had with Jakobek in early 1999. But he could only recall some "general chatter" with the former budget chief. Jacobek would later move an amendment to the MFP contract that bureaucrats would manage to interpret as authority to extend the computer leases from three years to five at interest rates almost triple those approved by council.
"He wasn't an overly friendly guy," Domi said. But that didn't stop him from putting Jakobek's name on a $134 receipt from Pizza Banfi on another date. And it didn't matter that the then budget chief wasn't even there.
"I cannot recall ever going to Pizza Banfi with Mr. Jakobek," Domi confessed. But that was OK. The simple fact that Jakobek was "probably what I was focused on at the time" made it a legitimate business expense.
Manes asked Domi if he had dined alone at the pizzeria. "No," the witness replied. But he couldn't remember who was there with him. Was it someone from the city of Toronto?, the lead counsel inquired. "Not that I can recall or think of," Domi answered.
And so it went. By the time the subject of a charter flight to a Leafs game in Philadelphia came up, Domi's memory was going into shutdown mode. Although Jakobek's name is on the May 1999 flight manifest to and from the States, the man who invited him along for the ride (it cost MFP more than $6,000) couldn't remember the budget chief being on board.
"I have no recollection of that," Domi said. "I can't recall."
Manes asked if he was sure Jakobek never took the flight.
"I'm fairly certain," Domi replied.
He's still on the witness stand today. Ka-ching! Ka-ching! PEACE BY PEACE
JANUARY 30-FEBRUARY 2 -- Anti-war conference of students from across Canada. U of T. 416-533-6026.
FEBRUARY 2-8 -- Peace Week, hosted by U of T Chaplains Association; workshops, prayers. 416-978-8100.
FEBRUARY 5 -- Rally at City Hall to support a resolution against war and sanctions on Iraq. 2 pm. 416-880-6245.
FEBRUARY 5 -- Talk on disarmament by historian/journalist Gwynne Dyer. 7:30 pm. Brennan Hall, 81 St. Mary. 416-978-8100.
FEBRUARY 14 -- Help surround the Department of Defence in Ottawa with the power of love on Valentine's Day. Buses leave T.O. on February 13. Food Not Bombs. 416-651-5800.
FEBRUARY 15 -- International day of action: rally at the public square at Yonge and Dundas. 1 pm. 416-588-5555.