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No longer facing an extortion charge for his efforts to obtain the Rob Ford video, the former mayor's mysterious pal opens up just a crack
Asked to point out Sandro Lisi in the courtroom, witness Elena Basso made a show of it on the stand.
“I think that’s him,” she said on April 14, 2015, indicating a wooden desk at the far side of the room, where Lisi was indeed sitting. “I see his bald head!”
Alexander “Sandro” Lisi is not in fact bald. Nor is he balding to any noticeable degree. This was Basso’s way of sticking it to him at his own preliminary hearing on a charge of extortion related to his efforts to obtain the first Rob Ford crack video.
In his three-plus years in the public eye — from being spotted by NOW tailing Ford in his Range Rover on the May 2013 morning after the video story broke, to leaving the courthouse in the same vehicle upon the extortion charge being dropped on August 11 — Ford’s former driver had allowed himself to be defined by other people.
He didn’t take the stand in his separate trial on (peripherally Ford-related) drug charges and, save for a few brief words after being acquitted on those, never spoke on record to the media. In the absence of any narrative to the contrary, his legend grew as a fearsome figure with a questionable relationship to the mayor (and assault charges related to multiple women) who potentially held the key to all relevant mysteries.
Now that he is no longer subject to prosecution, however, Lisi is interested in speaking.
And so it is that just a couple of hours after the Crown has withdrawn the extortion charge and released him on a peace bond, I find myself sitting opposite Lisi in a third-floor boardroom at the Bedford Road offices of Greenspan Humphrey Lavine, one of just a handful of journalists (the others being the Sun’s Sam Pazzano and Joe Warmington) to be granted an audience.
There are dozens of questions I want to ask, and for the most part I do. But Lisi is not always interested in answering. He is, on the one hand, the most open he has ever been with the press, and, on the other, just as closely guarded as you might expect. Some queries he defers to his lawyers, Seth Weinstein and Domenic Basile, who are also in the room. Some he simply declines. And there are a handful of specific allegations — that he wields bedbugs as a biological weapon against his enemies that he was the mayor’s drug dealer that Ford once beat him up — that he outright and explicitly denies.
So what was his relationship with the mayor?
“I was his driver and good friend.”
Whenever the subject turns to Ford, who died in March, Lisi warms and becomes genuinely wistful.
“Rob got me engaged in politics,” he says with apparent sincerity. He helped Ford on the summer 2013 by-election that saw deputy mayor Doug Holyday elected to represent Etobicoke-Lakeshore at Queen’s Park and says it was one of the mayor’s proudest moments.
And what was it he liked about his politics?
On this point, his response is hardly different from that of any number of Ford adherents: “His style of getting along with people. No one could beat it.”
Lisi once put a Ford sign on his lawn, but he bristles when I mistakenly recall that he later replaced it with a John Tory one. (I was thinking of the Bassos’ residence.)
To hear Lisi’s lawyers tell it, his pursuit of the video — and subsequent legal ordeal stemming from his warning to Liban Siyad that the Dixon neighbourhood would face consequences if it weren’t turned over — was merely his attempt to be a good and loyal friend to the mayor. And while that may be an oversimplification at best, in talking to Lisi, I do find myself caught off guard by the degree of his affection for Ford.
But he won’t say how long he’d known him or how they met. (Though in an interview immediately after mine, he tells the Sun’s Pazzano he met Ford 25 years ago via friends Ford was coaching in football.) He won’t say when he last saw Ford in person.
He will, however, offer that he spoke to him on the phone shortly before he died. And that he has seen Brownie, the puppy whom Ford’s wife and children got not long after.
Asked if he was self-conscious about being seen with the mayor in public after being charged in October 2013, Lisi is defiant.
“We were friends,” he says. “We weren’t gonna hide the fact we were friends.”
Normally cautious and wary of surveillance (and, according to police documents, a practitioner of counter-surveillance), he doesn’t seem too bothered about having been videotaped with the mayor at Steak Queen in January 2014, on the same night as Ford’s infamous “patois” rant. There was “nothing to hide,” he says, because they “did nothing wrong.”
He acknowledges that he still gets recognized once in a while and that, at least within Etobicoke, there were two questions he’d typically get: “Is your case still in court?” and “Why were you charged and not them?”
The “them” in the second question were the people he was accused of extorting: Liban Siyad and Mohamed Siad, the latter of whom shot the crack video and whose name was eventually removed from Lisi’s charge. Police wiretaps suggest that Siad may have tried to blackmail the mayor in an attempt to profit from the video. (Siad would later be stabbed in the back, chest and cheek in an altercation in the Don Jail.)
Lisi asked me what I thought of the second video that police recovered, in which Siad boasts to his own camera about having just surreptitiously recorded the mayor smoking crack. I told him I thought it was very funny and that I believe it shows a man who was riding the incredulous, giddy high of having accomplished something wildly improbable. Siad clearly knew he had created an item of value, but, to my mind, hadn’t yet had a chance to think ahead to what it would mean.
Lisi takes a darker view of its implications.
“I think the public will see,” he says.
He declines to elaborate.
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