In an unprecedented move, council has suspended Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti's pay for 90 days after the integrity commissioner found he committed a serious breach of council's code of conduct.
In a report released last week, Integrity Commissioner Janet Leiper determined that the Ward 7 councillor acted improperly when he accepted $80,000 from a May, 2013 fundraiser attended by lobbyists and other people doing business with the city.
On Wednesday, councillors agreed Leiper's recommendation that Mammoliti should face a meaningful sanction for breaching the code, which prohibits council members from accepting gifts that are directly or indirectly connected to their official duties. The vote was an overwhelming 37-2, with only Mike Del Grande and newly appointed councillor James Maloney voting against.
"If anyone thinks that they can flaunt the rules, and do the kinds of things that Councillor Mammoliti is charged with doing, they're wrong. We will not tolerate it as council," said Councillor Joe Mihevc. "When Torontonians see the kind of money that changed hands in this process they will be absolutely outraged."
This is the first time since the office of the integrity commissioner was created in 2004 that the accountability officer has recommended the penalty of docking a councillor's pay for 90 days, the maximum time allowed. The cost to Mammoliti will only be $26,000, however, far less than the $80,000 he pocketed from the fundraiser.
But the council vote will likely not be the end of the matter. During the debate the city's lobbyist registrar Linda Gehrke announced she has started her own investigation into lobbyists who reportedly attended the Mammoliti fundraiser. Council also passed a motion requesting the city retain a criminal lawyer to determine whether there are grounds to refer the matter to the police, although the force has said it could investigate on its own if it receives a complaint from the public.
"At this point I don't have an opinion [about whether the fundraiser broke the law]" said Mihevc, who moved the motion. "I do have an opinion that we need to investigate."
In a bid to halt the integrity commissioner's investigation, Mammoliti went to court last month seeking a judicial review of whether Leiper has jurisdiction over the case. In a letter to council, Mammoliti's attorney Morris Manning urged members of council to defer a vote until the courts have rendered a ruling.
A few councillors agreed it would be best to wait until the issue had made its way through the courts, which would take until after the October 27 municipal election in which Mammoliti is registered to run. But most rejected the move to defer, saying that anything less than an immediate sanction would send the message that council doesn't take code of conduct violations seriously.
"We cannot allow this issue to fester in the public arena," argued Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby. "This council needs to take action now."
City solicitor Anna Kinastowksi advised that there was nothing in the Manning's letter that would prevent councillors from sanctioning Mammoliti, and described the legal risk to the city of doing so as "minimal."
Mammoliti recused himself from the debate but appeared in the chamber after the vote to speak to reporters. He said he would continue to pursue the issue in the courts and claimed he wasn't worried about the possibility of the police getting involved.
"We did not break any policy," he maintained. "We did not break any laws."
The councillor insists that he had limited knowledge of the fundraiser and that it was a private event organized by his family to celebrate his recovery from life-saving brain surgery.
"You tell me how a guy who's got his head cracked open with brain surgery can break any laws or policies" he said.
Asked if he would repay the money if the courts uphold Leiper's finding, Mammoliti responded: "We'll get to that bridge when we get there. I'm a very reasonable man and I always try to do what's right."
Leiper launched her investigation last year after a formal complaint filed by activist and lawyer Brian Iler. Her report found that six lobbyists pledged $31,000 to Mammoliti's $500-a-plate fundraiser in Woodbridge. Others allegedly in attendance included the principal at a company that was in the process of bidding for a significant city contract at the time (the contract went to someone else), and another corporation that has millions of dollars worth of city contracts, which allegedly purchased one table for $5,000.
In her report, the integrity commissioner rejected Mammoliti's defence, in part because his staff began discussing the fundraiser before he knew he needed brain surgery. She also determined that he was involved in organizing the event and should have known it could violate the code.