EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
Perhaps there’s a reason for the old saying, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
But it’s not true in this case. The fact a developer whose land was removed from the Greenbelt was at the same luxury Las Vegas hotel at the same time as three people linked to the Ford government is now in the public eye.
Following reporting by The Trillium, Ontario Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake expanded his investigation into the Greenbelt and now-former housing minister Steve Clark to examine a Las Vegas trip in the early years of the Ford government.
We’ve uncovered some new evidence that challenges the account of the trip in that report, which was based on the testimony given under oath by those involved.
So, what really happened in Vegas? Let’s dig in.
What did The Trillium report in the first place?
Our stories from June 29 and July 24 said that in early 2020, Shakir Rehmatullah, Amin Massoudi, Kaleed Rasheed, and Jae Truesdell went on a Las Vegas trip together, according to information from multiple independent sources in the government, linked to it, and unassociated with it.
These sources were granted anonymity to protect them from reprisal.
Who are these people?
Rehmatullah owns Flato Developments and has benefited from multiple decisions by the Ford government, including several minister’s zoning orders to fast-track developments, and its Greenbelt removals.
Massoudi was Premier Doug Ford’s principal secretary at the time. He left the premier’s office a year ago. He now runs a lobbying business, Atlas Strategic Advisors Inc.
Rasheed is a Progressive Conservative MPP, having been elected in Mississauga East—Cooksville in the 2018 provincial election. He’s been a cabinet minister in Ford’s government since June 2021.
Truesdell is currently the housing policy director in the premier’s office. He worked in the housing minister’s office before unsuccessfully running as a Conservative Party of Canada candidate in the Oct. 21, 2019 federal election, and was working in the private sector when the trip occurred.
What happened after those Trillium stories came out?
Wake had already interviewed Rehmatullah, Massoudi, and Truesdell for his Greenbelt report.
Wake re-interviewed them and interviewed Rasheed for the first time, asking questions about the Vegas trip.
Neither Massoudi nor Rehmatullah had told him they saw each other in Las Vegas when he’d asked about their relationship with each other. Massoudi said he didn’t mention seeing Rehmatullah in Las Vegas in his initial interview because it “didn’t come to mind.”
Rehmatullah said he didn’t mention seeing Massoudi there because he did not have a conversation in Las Vegas with him, but instead spoke with Rasheed, whom he knows.
What did they tell the integrity commissioner?
Massoudi, Truesdell and Rasheed — the three linked to the government — told Wake they were in Las Vegas together in early December 2019. During that time, Rasheed and Massoudi said they only “briefly encountered” the developer, Rehmatullah, in the lobby of their hotel.
That’s a different timeframe than The Trillium account. We reported a trip in early 2020.
Rehmatullah provided records to Wake indicating he stayed at the Wynn Las Vegas for both windows of time: Dec. 6 to 9, 2019 and Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 2020.
When was the trip, then?
We know what the three linked to the government told the integrity commissioner: December.
But new evidence obtained by The Trillium also places Massoudi at the Wynn at the same time as Rehmatullah in early 2020.
The Trillium made a series of calls to the hotel’s amenities booking services, including its spa, restaurants and golf club and was told that on Feb. 1, 2020, Massoudi booked an 80-minute “Good Luck Ritual” massage at the hotel’s spa.
As for Dec. 6 to 8, 2019, Massoudi’s official calendar shows he was in Ontario for most of the day Friday.
Ford was in Ottawa for a meeting with then-mayor Jim Watson during the morning of Dec. 6, 2019. Massoudi, then the premier’s principal secretary, was there with him, according to his calendar and Ford’s spokesperson. Massoudi’s calendar shows he had a flight scheduled from Ottawa to Toronto early that Friday afternoon.
Versions of Massoudi’s calendars on Dec. 7 and 8, 2019, a Saturday and Sunday, that were provided in response to a freedom-of-information request are blank, with the exception of one item that was redacted for personal privacy reasons on Dec. 7.
The integrity commissioner’s report didn’t say whether Massoudi or Truesdell explicitly denied having gone to Las Vegas in early 2020.
Wake’s spokesperson wouldn’t say whether they denied this, or when three flights Rasheed showed he had booked through a travel agent for that weekend were scheduled either, as their office typically doesn’t disclose information from its investigations that isn’t included in a report.
“All of the evidence that was provided and was relevant to the Integrity Commissioner's jurisdiction as it related to this (Clark-focused) inquiry has been included in the report,” wrote Michelle Renaud, communications manager in the Office of the Integrity Commissioner, in an email.
Although Rasheed told the commissioner that his only trip to Las Vegas since being elected was in December 2019, a reservation at the spa for a “Wynn pedicure” and “80-minute aromatherapy” treatments was made under his name this year, on Feb. 4, 2023.
The Trillium presented this reservation to Rasheed’s spokespeople in an email on Thursday, asking whether Rasheed had gone to Las Vegas earlier this year, as the reservation indicates, but didn’t hear back from them before this story was published.
Who paid for the group trip?
Before we published our first stories, Massoudi and Rasheed’s spokespeople both said in emails on June 28 that each of them had “never taken a trip paid (for) by Mr. Rehmatullah.”
Wake also asked who paid, and he asked for proof.
Rasheed provided the integrity commissioner’s office with an invoice from a travel agent showing he paid $4,550 in cash to book three roundtrip flights to Las Vegas that departed Dec. 6, 2019, and returned Dec. 8, 2019.
Rasheed also gave Wake’s office an email from the Wynn Las Vegas hotel indicating he booked three rooms for that timeframe. He didn’t provide the commissioner’s office with proof of payment, saying he contacted the hotel “numerous” times for it but got no response.
The report does not indicate that Massoudi nor Truesdell provided the integrity commissioner with specific documentation indicating they were in Las Vegas from Dec. 6 to 8, 2019.
Massoudi and Truesdell each told Wake they paid Rasheed back with cash for their plane tickets and hotel rooms, and provided the commissioner’s office with banking records to show they had access to the necessary cash at the time.
Massoudi gave the commissioner’s office a bank statement showing a withdrawal of $1,264.63 on Nov. 7 and said he used $1,000 of this and other cash a family member gave him to repay Rasheed.
Truesdell said he had access to a large amount of cash because of gifts he’d received around Christmas 2019, and believes he repaid Rasheed about $2,000 in cash around Jan. 2. He also showed the commissioner a record of a large deposit he made in January 2020 to support what he’d said about having the cash available.
What are they saying about all of this?
Before The Trillium published its first story, neither Massoudi nor Rasheed nor Truesdell denied going to Las Vegas with Rehmatullah in early 2020.
As mentioned, Massoudi and Rasheed’s spokesperson had said each of them had “never taken a trip paid (for) by Mr. Rehmatullah.”
Rasheed also refused to answer questions related to the first Las Vegas trip story at a July 12 media availability.
Rehmatullah didn’t respond to questions sent to him by email before the June 29 story was published. Truesdell didn’t respond to questions sent to him before the publication of the July 24 story.
Last Wednesday, after The Trillium sent questions to Truesdell and Rasheed, Ford’s spokesperson Ivana Yelich said that Rasheed and Trusedell both now denied having gone to Las Vegas in early 2020.
Before the publication of this story, neither Massoudi, Rehmatullah, Rasheed nor Truesdell personally responded to questions sent to them by email. Ford’s spokesperson’s response was on Truesdell’s and Rasheed’s behalf.
What if someone wasn’t telling the truth?
The interviews with the integrity commissioner were conducted under oath.
Knowingly lying under oath or affirmation is known as perjury in Canada’s Criminal Code. It would not be perjury if a person made an honest mistake or simply forgot certain facts.
“A person who lies under oath (or affirmation) to the Integrity Commissioner in the course of an investigation could absolutely open themselves up to being charged with perjury under the Criminal Code,” said Ian Stedman, a lawyer and assistant professor at York University who worked in the integrity commissioner’s office from 2011 to 2014.
That said, Wake did not accuse anyone of perjury in his report and no one has been charged.
Why does the integrity commissioner care about the Vegas trip?
The integrity commissioner wrote in his Aug. 30 report that he requested the additional interviews due to the “potential relevance” of The Trillium’s reporting to his investigation of the Greenbelt land swap.
Wake presented the evidence he gathered about the Las Vegas trip “to show the investigative work that was done in this regard” and made “no findings with respect to it,” he wrote.
What roles did these people play in the Greenbelt controversy?
Truesdell was a key witness and figure in the rest of Wake’s investigation into the events that led to the Greenbelt land removals.
The integrity commissioner relied on Truesdell’s testimony to describe how Ford’s mandate letter to Clark, then-Ontario’s housing minister, came to include direction to “codify processes for swaps, expansions, contractions and policy updates for the Greenbelt,” and about how Ford’s office was kept in the dark about how lands were being selected for removal.
Rehmatullah is also a significant figure in Wake’s report.
Part of a 102-acre plot of land in Markham that he bought in 2017 for $15 million was removed from the Greenbelt so homes could be built there.
Rehmatullah was among the attendees at the premier’s daughter’s wedding festivities last year, including the Aug. 11, 2022 stag-and-doe party and the Sept. 25, 2022 wedding. “He described Premier Ford as a friend,” Wake’s report noted.
On Sept. 27, 2022, a lawyer representing Rehmatullah wrote to Ryan Amato, Clark’s former chief of staff, requesting that land he owned in Markham be removed from the Greenbelt, the integrity commissioner and auditor general each found.
Amato bore the brunt of the blame for the flawed process leading to Greenbelt removals that favoured specific developers with access to him in both watchdogs’ reports.
Rehmatullah said during his first interview with Wake that he “does not know” why his lawyer contacted Amato on Sept. 27, 2022, two days after Ford’s daughter’s wedding. The developer “finally admitted in his second interview that he had instructed his solicitors to make the removal requests to Mr. Amato since he was a contact,” the commissioner’s report said. Rehmatullah told Wake these requests were in “the normal course of business to ask consultants to keep submitting.”
Rehmatullah also “had his hand in” two other companies’ Greenbelt land removal requests, Wake found.
The commissioner said he found Rehmatullah’s account of why his lawyer submitted his lands for removal for the Greenbelt “strains credulity” and that his assertion that no one connected to the government told him it was considering changes to the Greenbelt is “questionable.”
Massoudi is only a minor figure in the rest of Wake’s report. He left the premier’s office in late August 2022 to run his lobbying business, Atlas Strategic Advisors Inc. Massoudi has previously said he wasn’t directly involved in decisions benefiting Rehmatullah while he was working in the government.
“During my time in government I had no direct role in decisions to issue specific MZOs,” Massoudi said in a June 28 email. “To my knowledge, decisions on specific changes to the Greenbelt were made after my departure from government.”
Rasheed was only interviewed after The Trillium’s reporting on the Las Vegas trip. He was not part of the integrity commissioner’s broader inquiry.
What are the relationships between these people?
Rasheed, Massoudi and Truesdell are friends, they told the integrity commissioner. Their trip to Vegas was to “have a last hurrah” before Truesdell’s baby was to be born, Massoudi told Wake.
As for the developer, both Rehmatullah and Massoudi maintained that they have little of a personal relationship.
Truesdell told the integrity commissioner that he and Rehmatullah have met each other five to 10 times, including mostly at real estate industry events.
Rehmatullah and Rasheed, currently minister of public and business service delivery, are longtime friends.
In December 2021, Rasheed took steps to set up an ethics screen with the developer on the advice of the integrity commissioner after it was disclosed to Wake that Rasheed’s wife worked for Rehmatullah, Wake’s report notes. Rasheed’s wife has owned a consulting business since at least around when he was elected in 2018, his public disclosures show.
Ethics screens “manage various conflicts of interest, including when a public servant has a family member who works in a particular industry connected to the public servant’s area of work or when an issue relates to a… personal friend,” Wake’s spokesperson told The Trillium in an email.
What has the fallout of the integrity commissioner’s report been?
Clark resigned as Ontario’s housing minister amid the Greenbelt scandal on Labour Day. Paul Calandra is now the minister of housing and is leading a review of the Greenbelt in its entirety.
The OPP referred the issue to the RCMP, which is determining whether or not it will “investigate irregularities in the disposition of the Greenbelt surrounding Toronto,” as an RCMP spokesperson put it on Aug. 28.
The issue also appears to be hurting the PCs in the polls.