Toronto police chief hands off case linked to embattled mayor

By Allison Martell TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario authorities have agreed to a request from Toronto's police chief to supervise an investigation that has already resulted in extortion charges against an alleged drug dealer and associate of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a probe the mayor contends is politically motivated. Toronto Police have declined to say much about Ford's role, if any, in the case against his friend and occasional driver, Sandro Lisi. But police documents released last fall showed that the mayor, now running for re-election, had been under surveillance for months. Ford, who admitted in November that he had smoked crack cocaine, probably while in a "drunken stupor," has made headlines around the world. He has become a household name in circles that rarely take notice of Canadian politics, not to mention a popular target for late-night television hosts. His admission of drug use came days after Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said his force, during an earlier investigation called Project Traveler, had obtained a video featuring the mayor that was consistent with media reports about a video clip showing Ford appearing to smoking crack. Blair, who did not disclose the content of the video obtained by police, said at the time he was disappointed by what he saw. News of the Ontario Provincial Police taking over supervision of the latest investigation came in a Toronto Police press release posted on Wednesday. The provincial police's commissioner, Chris Lewis, said such a move was not unusual. He cited previous cases in which his force has investigated municipal employees or senior police officers. Speaking to reporters, Lewis said Blair wished to "reassure the public that he serves that things are being done properly, and that there is no bias involved in this." "The damage has already been done," Ford said to reporters on Wednesday. "The chief obviously is just playing political games." Blair has said Toronto Police launched the latest investigation, Project Brazen Two, because the original probe uncovered evidence of criminal activity that fell outside its mandate. Afterwards, Lisi, already charged with drug trafficking, was also charged with extortion for actions police allege he took to retrieve the video, which media blog Gawker and the Toronto Star newspaper first described in May. They said it showed Ford appearing to smoke crack. The Toronto Star said in its initial story that a group of men involved in the drug trade were trying to sell the video. Ford, who has been stripped of many of his powers by Toronto's city council, has lashed out repeatedly at Blair, calling the investigation a waste of money motivated by politics "If he's going to arrest me, arrest me," he told reporters last week. (Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)