With additional reporting by Rocco Castoro
UPDATE: Approximately four hours after this piece was published, Amin Massoudi provided comment to VICE via email. He thoroughly denied having any knowledge of the events detailed in the story below and alleged that the “entirety of the story is false.”
For unknown reasons, Amin also sent the exact same email to Canada’s Global News networkand Maclean’s who have published it in full. His message offers no explanation as to why he failed to respond to our numerous and very detailed requests for comment over the course of the past four days.
Mark Towhey, Mayor Ford’s former chief of staff, also denied any knowledge of his implications in the matters described below via Twitter. He also failed to respond to our requests for comment over the past four days.
After reading and carefully considering their statements, VICE has once again reached out to both Amin and Mark with an offer to get on the phone and provide answers to the many questions we have been trying to ask for the greater part of a week. Email works too.
Neither Mayor Rob Ford or his brother, Doug, have provided comment.
In late July, an anonymous source approached VICE with claims that he had been hired to hack into a website by Amin Massoudi, the communications director for Toronto's troubled mayor, Rob Ford.
More specifically, the source—who will be referred to as “the hacker” from here on out—said he was asked by Amin to crack the password of a private online directory that allegedly contained a digital copy of the now infamous footage of Mayor Ford smoking a substance out of a crack pipe. Ford has, up until this past Sunday, publicly doubted the existence of the video.
VICE acquired a log of emails that, according to the hacker, detail his correspondence with Amin from May 18 to May 31 of this year. When contacted by VICE, the hacker confirmed the validity of these emails by showing us the transcript, but also said it was a little more complicated than it seemed. He agreed to talk if we would preserve his identity, as publishing it would incriminate him.
In case you aren’t caught up on the intoxicated calamity that is Rob Ford’s contemporary existence, today he bluntly admitted to having smoked crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor.”This insane bombshell comes after last week’s statement from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, whoconfirmed that the crack tape Gawker and the Toronto Star reported on does indeed exist and contains footage that is “consistent” with their reports that claim the video shows Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. Ford also appeared on his weekly radio show this past Sunday toapologize to the City of Toronto and asked for the crack tape to be released to the public “immediately.”
In light of these recent developments, we believe that now is the time to publish portions of Amin and the hacker’s arrangement, after initially receiving the emails in July, for the benefit of public interest.
The correspondence he sent us outlines his own attempt, under Amin’s orders, to break into an online storage account hosted by Bugs3, a free hosting service with “unlimited space.” VICE was able to verify the existence of the account, which was registered under http://goonies.bugs3.com. At the time VICE became aware of the correspondence, the site was up. It has since been taken offline.
The “goonies” subdomain may refer to Dixon St. Goonies, the name of a street gang that was heavily targeted in the massive sweep of drug dealers and gang members that ripped through Toronto in August—a sweep that included a raid on the house where the crack tape was filmed.
The correspondence between the hacker and Amin begins with an email sent from the latter’s City of Toronto email address. That first message, sent from Amin to the hacker on May 18, 2013 at 5:05 PM, two days after Gawker’s story broke, reads:
"Got something I want you to look into. Think you probably know what’s been reported. What’s the best way we can talk… T said you might be able to help us again."
Despite this email being sent from a City of Toronto email address, it cannot be verified by City Hall. This is a direct result of Amin’s promotion to spokesman and communications director that occurred on May 27. On May 18, when this email appears to have been sent, he was still working for Councillor Doug Ford, Rob Ford's brother. Here’s what the City of Toronto says about Amin’s emails that were sent before his promotion:
“With respect to Amin Massoudi's email records please be advised that all records prior to Mr. Massoudi commencing work in the mayor's office on May 27th are considered Councilor [Doug] Ford's personal constituency records. These records are not in the City's custody or control. Thus access cannot be provided."
Doug Ford did not respond to VICE’s request for comment.
Unfortunately, verifying this one email through City Hall is the only thing that would prove the transcript's legitimacy beyond a shadow of a doubt. VICE believes the transcript to be real. The hacker says he doesn't have the long-form email headers from this conversation because he destroyed the account before deciding to disclose the information to VICE.
VICE exhaustively compared the emails allegedly from Massoudi with public notes and comments Massoudi left on his Facebook profile. Both were rife with grammatical errors, poor spelling, and had a similar tendency to overuse elipses. Since Friday, Massoudi refused to respond to several voicemails and emails from VICE asking him to tell his side of the story.
As for the content of the email itself, the hacker told VICE that T stands for Mark Towhey, Ford’s former chief of staff who has been cooperating with the Toronto Police since he was fired on May 23. On Friday, news broke that Towhey has hinted at a link between the murder of Anthony Smith and the crack tape, which Smith’s friends have said they believe was stored on his cell phone at the time of his death. Mark Towhey also refused to provide his side of the story, by ignoring multiple requests from VICE for comment.
During one of our interviews with the hacker in August, he told us that Amin and Ford were certain the goonies directory was the last and only place the video existed because the phone used to film the crack tape was “gone,” a statement the hacker alleged Amin made to him in a text message.
According to the transcript received by VICE, immediately after Amin sent the first email from his official @toronto.ca government email address, he fired off another, informing the hacker he was going to create a new email address.
The next email was sent to the hacker from a Yahoo account that has since been deleted: “Hey, it’s Amin,” he writes—a clumsy introduction that spooked the hacker, who responds:
"Man… half my point was to keep this discrete, makes it hard to do when you drop your first name in the email.. smh [sic] Anyways, what’s up… what’s goin on with this story? Is it true? and if so..WTF?!"
This exchange was sent on May 19, three days after Gawker broke the story that their editor-in-chief, John Cook, had viewed a video of Rob Ford smoking what appears to be crack, alongside convicted crack dealers, in a trap house.
Amin responded quickly, first by apologizing for compromising the supposedly top-secret situation:
"Oops… well just delete it I guess. Anyhow, as of now I can’t confirm if the video is real or not we’d heard there was something floating around..
the big guy said someone was trying to blackmail him about a month ago but just told us it was about weed.
I know he’s got some habits, but this would surprise me if it’s really true.
Talked to him again this morning and he mentioned a site or something and a vid on it.. he wanted to know if we know any lowkey computer people who could help us find it.
We need absolute secrecy, but he’s willing to hook them up nicely. I’ll tell you more soon if you think there’s a chance you can help"
When the hacker asked, specifically, what kind of services Amin was looking for, Amin responded, referring to the Bugs3 server with the goonies subdomain:
"Do you know how to delete something from a website’s server? or do you know someone who does? I can get you the site address to take a look if you think it’s possible, we’re just looking at options now."
The hacker wasn’t entirely confident that he could do the job:
"Damn.. uh, ya technically it's possible, but I'd have to know what the site is & see it...etc. If not myself, I got a buddy who probably can help."
About a week passed with little chatter between Amin and the hacker. Then, on May 27, two days after the Globe & Mail ran a story detailing Doug Ford’s past as a midlevel hash dealer in Etobicoke, Ontario, the hacker reached out to Amin with a new subject line, “Holy Shit!!,” continuing:
"Just got back & am catchin up on the news from weekend.. wtf goin on there too? cleaning house? damn. And this hash empire story in the Globe!? lmao.. l haven't had good hash in a long time, got any links?
l got a friend comin over tmo & who's good at this sort of thing. Don't worry, I won't say a word either: )
Gawker raised the $ too.. so what's the plan now?"
By this time the crack-tape scandal had reached a fever pitch. A story about the Ford family’s history with violence and drug dealing was emerging from the Globe & Mail at the same time thatGawker had raised $200,000 to buy the tape from Toronto gangsters.
Things must have been hectic in the mayor’s office at the time, as Amin’s next email sent on May 27 illustrated: