Tories mulled reimbursing spurned candidate for cash spent on 'various illegal activities': Leaked emails

Tories mulled reimbursing spurned candidate for cash spent on ‘various illegal activities’: Leaked emails

Last fall, staring down the barrel of a pair of lawsuits against the Progressive Conservative party and a criminal probe into alleged ballot-box stuffing, a party lawyer laid out a proposed settlement for a spurned candidate that included a condition he decline to support police in their fraud investigation into a Hamilton-area nomination contest.

The proposed settlement suggested reimbursing the candidate for $22,000 spent on what one senior Tory described as "various illegal activities," according to an email chain obtained by QP Briefing.

The party lawyer's email, dated Oct. 6 and labelled "confidential and privileged," set out the possibility of funnelling that money from the party to spurned candidate Jeff Peller through a third person — the same person Peller allegedly paid for those "activities" in the first place.

The email chain consists of three messages between people who had been in Patrick Brown's inner circle when he was the leader of the PCs: party lawyer Mike Richmond, campaign co-chair Walied Soliman and chief-of-staff Alykhan Velshi.

Tory brass email chain by Chris Reynolds on Scribd

Velshi, who is now chief of staff to interim PC leader Vic Fedeli, pooh-poohed the compensation plan as "indefensible" and "far worse than Duffy," an apparent reference to the $90,000 payment Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff made to Sen. Mike Duffy to allow him to pay back controversial living expense claims. Velshi floated the settlement alternative of a $130,000 lump-sum payment to Peller that cuts out the middleman.

Surfacing amid Tory infighting, self-reflection on party "rot" and an integrity commissioner investigation into Brown's finances, the email chain shines a light on backroom deliberations and raises questions concerning the activities of political fixers and guns for hire, in particular a person named Snover Dhillon, a figure on the margins of PC party organizing.

Peller dropped his lawsuit two weeks after the email was sent. None of the parties involved would comment on the details of any possible settlement.

QP Briefing has no knowledge of what the alleged payment from Peller to Dhillon was for, or of the activities Velshi described as illegal. The Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas nomination is under police investigation but QP Briefing has no information to suggest Peller is subject to an investigation.

'We pay Snover, Snover pays Jeff'

Richmond's email outlines in eight points a "proposed settlement" to the lawsuit filed by Peller after his official loss at the May 7 nomination, where he alleged voter fraud, ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities took place.

The email refers to a payment by Peller to Dhillon, a Toronto-area businessman with a checkered past who has been an ardent political booster of Brown.

Step No. 1 of the settlement is for "Snover [Dhillon] to repay the $22,000 that Peller gave him."

"If Snover refuses to pay from his own pocket, we may have to fund the $22,000 for him. We pay Snover, Snover pays Jeff [Peller]," Richmond writes.

"We will need Snover to sign a confidentiality so that he does not boast to Jeff or others that we paid him to do this," Richmond adds.

Step No. 2 is an apology to Peller, plus a message for the Brampton-based Dhillon from either Brown or then-PC vice-president Jag Badwal. "Message to Snover is that he either does this for us or else the Leader publicly lambastes and disowns him," Richmond's email says.

The proposal then suggests paying Peller from party coffers to reimburse him for campaign expenses and legal fees for a total of $108,000, according to the email.

The plan then lays out that Brown would have a 15- to 30-minute meeting with Peller "to bury the hatchet," and Peller and the party would issue statements saying the issue had been resolved.

The final step: "Peller to advise the Police (who have called him for an interview, but he has not spoken to them yet) that his issues are resolved and he has no interest in making or supporting any complaint."

Soliman writes back minutes afterward opposing one aspect of the proposal: "I don't think we can pay Snover to repay Peller. Snover has the money. Patrick will need to tell him he needs to do both things."

Velshi chimes in eight hours later, calling the notion of handing cash to Dhillon "unacceptable" and "indefensible."

"I don't want to pull the Mike Duffy card, but this is far worse than Duffy. This must not be allowed to happen, however tempting and easy a solution it may be."

Velshi suggests instead the party give Peller a lump-sum settlement of $130,000, "ex gratia" — meaning as a favour, not out of legal obligation — "rather than us trying to reimburse him for his various illegal activities."

"I am OK with an ex gratia payment to make this go away," Velshi writes. "I'm not OK with ... dubious reimbursements to reach the same amount."

He adds that he is "OK" with the other aspects of the proposed settlement.

Richmond told QP Briefing he wasn't involved in nomination meetings and his role as a lawyer is generally to summarize the instructions he receives.

"In my practice, as with any client, it would be my job to try to synthesize all the different instructions I'm getting and requests I'm getting from people who were actually involved. Generally speaking, without knowing the facts first-hand, anything I might write about a proposal on any file would be an attempt at summarizing all the input I've been getting from different corners, rather than my reflecting my own thoughts," Richmond said.

He said he was unable to comment on specific facts related to the Hamilton nomination process due to solicitor-client privilege.

Badwal told QP Briefing in an email Wednesday that no one "reached out to me for any settlement. It was done by the lawyers and I did not reach out to anyone for apology or money."

Soliman and Velshi declined to offer comment for this story.

Dhillon did not respond to requests for comment.

Peller declined to comment beyond saying of any deal with Dhillon: "I cannot confirm that."

Brown did not respond to a request for comment.

The email was part of a package provided by the party to its nominations committee before Brown was cleared to run for a PC nomination, according to several sources.

Who is Snover Dhillon?

Dhillon, who moves in Tory circles and has been affiliated with Brown for at least seven years, stirred up political controversy on the federal scene in 2011 when he was allowed to sit right behind the prime minister's family at a rally, despite facing a criminal charge for fraud at the time.

In 2012, he was fined $7,000 after pleading guilty to one count of performing the functions of a real estate brokerage without being registered as a brokerage, according to the Real Estate Council of Ontario. He served 41 days in jail after an earlier conviction "arising from related circumstances," according to RECO's 2012-13 annual report.

In 2014, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario warned consumers that Dhillon and his firm D Consulting Group are "not licensed to do mortgage brokering business" in the province. The firm had placed ads on Kijiji soliciting potential customers to contact it. "Consumers should exercise caution if they are contacted by anyone with this contact information or matching this description," the commission said.

Snover Dhillon, second from left, attends the Ottawa West - Nepean nomination meeting May 6. At the meeting, 28 more ballots were cast than there were people registered to vote, according to the riding association. The riding's board resigned en masse shortly after.

A senior PC party official told QP Briefing that Dhillon's name has become synonymous with the party's troubled nominations.

"Memberships, busing in people, making it happen, boosting your vote," the source said.

The day before the Hamilton-area nomination, Karma MacGregor won the PC nomination in Ottawa West-Nepean, a result that has since been overturned by the party. Several PC insiders said Dhillon worked to support her in that contest, with photographs showing him on site.

The credentials desk, where IDs and memberships are checked, saw 28 more ballots cast than there were credentials forms, according to Tories on hand that day.

MacGregor did not respond to a request for comment.

Three other PC sources, who have been involved in the party's troubled nomination process and spoke on background to QP Briefing, expressed similar concerns about Dhillon's involvement in nomination races.

On Monday, the the Toronto Star reported that Brown had directed his two top officials to "get me the result I want" in the Hamilton-area nomination. According to a senior PC official, several high-ranking party members have been questioned by police in relation to the contest, which saw Ben Levitt win the nomination. Levitt has since asked for the nomination result to be overturned, so he would have a chance to contest it again.

Christopher Reynolds

QP BRIEFING Reporter

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