Jeff Lyons certainly knew what he was doing when he hired Eddie Greenspan's prestigious criminal law firm to represent him at the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry. By the time lawyer Todd White had done his thing at the East York Civic Centre this week, he'd managed a half-decent job of recasting the beleaguered City Hall lobbyist as a victim of a politically motivated "witch hunt" organized by jealous competitors who would do just about anything to take over his precious turf.
Yes, this is the same Jeff Lyons who barely six months ago was at the heart of an OPP investigation into allegations that he solicited a $150,000 bribe from a computer leasing company that lost out to MFP Financial Services.
While the cops decided there wasn't enough evidence to lay criminal charges last November, the judicial inquiry being conducted by Justice Denise Bellamy decided to delve into the case anyway. After all, it had caused a two-month delay of the probe city council ordered in hopes of getting to the bottom of the MFP scandal.
On Monday, Robert Simone, a former sales director for Dell Financial Services, finally took the witness stand to tell the inquiry how Lyons tried to "shake down" his firm for a big payoff just before it submitted its bid to city officials in May 1999. The lobbyist was already being paid $5,000 a month to help DFS prepare its quote.
Simone said he figured Lyons was talking about then budget chief Tom Jakobek when he remarked that "Tom says it's worth $150,000" with regard to the extraordinary payment.
The former sales director said when he indicated that DFS would not pay the fee, Lyons responded: "Well, you know, MFP would pay $150,000. Others would pay $150,000."
"We kind of chalked it up to Jeff trying to basically shake us down for some more money before this tender closed," Simone told Ron Manes, the inquiry's lead counsel.
But when White began cross-examining Simone on Tuesday, he immediately challenged his version of what happened nearly four years ago.
"Your recollection of these events certainly can't be getting better," the lawyer suggested.
He argued that Simone's memories of what happened were fed by "rumours and stories and gossip and innuendo" emanating from the MFP affair.
White suggested the former sales boss was wrong to use the term "shake down" regarding his client's request for more money from DFS. He said, "It's common practice" for lobbyists to negotiate a "success fee" to be paid if a contract is ultimately awarded, and $150,000 would seem a reasonable payment on a deal Simone once calculated was worth $150 million over a four-year term.
"There's nothing scary about that," White maintained. "There's nothing odd about that."
The payoff would have been "a bonus, a piece of the profits, a piece of the pie," he added.
The lawyer's full frontal assault had the desired effect on Simone. He quickly conceded that "shake down" might have been too strong a term to use regarding Lyons's request for more cash. And, as the day wore on, he made other concessions. To White's contention that "there was never any suggestion by Mr. Lyons that this was a bribe," Simone responded: "Correct." And he went on to deny ever making a reference to bribery during interviews with OPP investigators, inquiry counsel and the media.
White was "correct" again when he postulated that "the only impropriety you can possibly fathom is that he (Lyons) should have discussed his bonus fee beforehand" instead of bringing it up at the last minute.
"If he's slow out of the gate, that's the only criticism you can make," the lawyer said. "Sure," Simone replied. In fact, other than some concerns he once had about Lyons working for DSF and MFP at the same time, "everything he did for us was up to task. Everything."
Needless to say, Manes and city lawyer Linda Rothstein were less than impressed with White's intimidating tactics. "A gross oversimplification" of Simone's earlier evidence was how Rothstein described the criminal lawyer's approach.
The inquiry's lead counsel argued that White's questions were largely based on hypothetical situations dressed up as facts. "There is no foundation in the evidence," he said.
Late in the day, Simone came to much the same conclusion.
"Questions posed in the hypothetical are, to me, somewhat difficult to answer," he told Justice Bellamy. "Hypothetically, he (White) is absolutely correct. These are all reasonable possibilities. But whether they were probable or possible are very different things to me."
But for White, all the criticism was like water off a duck's back. He'd begun the day relating how, like lawyers, lobbyists "can charge or bill according "to result.'"
Somehow, I don't think Jeff Lyons is going to mind paying.