John Cook, the Gawker editor who first broke the news of an alleged cellphone video showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, says the purported video may now be gone.
In an article posted to the U.S. website on Tuesday afternoon, Cook claims the owner of the alleged footage reached out to an intermediary on Friday.
“The intermediary called to tell me that he had finally heard from the owner,” Cook wrote. “And his message was: 'It's gone. Leave me alone.' It was, the intermediary told me, a short conversation.”
Ford has long denied the tape exists and has said he does not use crack cocaine.
Cook claims the owner of the alleged video was scared off by both the “media circus that erupted after the story broke” and intense pressure from those in Toronto’s Somali community who became angry when the story “became about Rob Ford and his Somali crack dealers.”
“According to the intermediary, these two factors — a fear of being identified, and a strong desire from the Somali community to make the whole thing go away — led the owner of the video to go to ground and soured the owner's relationship with the intermediary,” he wrote.
Cook also said details in stories from the Toronto Star — including “the rough location where its reporters viewed the video, the rough location where it was purportedly recorded, a description of the intermediary's line of work, the ethnicity of the intermediary and the owner, and physical details about the video owner's appearance” — pushed the reported seller underground.
Gawker raised more than $200,000 through a crowdfunding “crackstarter” campaign to purchase the alleged tape but Cook announced last week there would be a one-month deadline to locate the footage before the funds would be donated to charity.
Though the Toronto mayor has denied any such tape exists, unnamed sources told the Star that Ford told senior aides he knew the location of the video and not to worry.
In a radio interview last week, Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle said more than one copy of the alleged footage exists.
"Actually, there's at least one other copy, there might be two other copies," Doolittle said. "One is out of the city, and one is somewhere else."
Ford has lost six staff members at City Hall since the start of the scandal. He fired his chief of staff, Mark Towhey, reportedly because the aide told Ford to seek help for his problems.
A recent investigative report by The Globe and Mail also alleged Ford’s brother, Doug, a Toronto city councillor, sold hashish in the 1980s. Doug Ford denied those charges.
More from The Canadian Press:
TORONTO — The U.S. website that raised $200,000 in a bid to buy an alleged video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford appearing to smoke crack cocaine now says its source has been told the video is "gone."
In a post on the Gawker website Tuesday, editor John Cook said he doesn't really know what that message from the unidentified source means, but he speculated on various scenarios for the alleged footage.
"It might mean that the video has been destroyed. It might mean that it has been handed over to Ford or his allies. It might mean that he intends to sell or give it to a Canadian media outlet. It might mean that the Toronto police department has seized it and plans to use it as evidence in a criminal investigation," he wrote.
Ford has said the alleged video does not exist and that he does not use crack cocaine, but the scandal nevertheless has plunged city hall into chaos.
"I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine," the mayor said in a news conference a week after the allegations emerged — the only time he has publicly discussed the drug-use accusations.
"I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist."
Several of Ford's staffers — including his chief of staff — have parted company with the mayor since the scandal erupted.
And some council members have criticized the mayor for refusing to address the allegations in a substantive fashion, while Premier Kathleen Wynne has expressed concern that Toronto residents are losing confidence in their municipal leaders.
Cook and two Toronto Star reporters have said they viewed the alleged video, which they said was being shopped around by drug dealers with the help of an unidentified intermediary. The Star has said it can't vouch for its authenticity.
Both outlets went public with the allegations last month, but no video has surfaced.
Gawker said it has heard from the intermediary in the matter, who delivered a terse message Friday from the owner of the alleged video: "It's gone. Leave me alone."
The gossip website said that according to the intermediary, the media firestorm surrounding the alleged video made its owner "angry" and prompted him to go underground.
"The intermediary has claimed that a copy of the video was made and taken outside Toronto for safekeeping," though it's not clear if that's true, Cook wrote.
"We can still imagine any number of scenarios in which this video comes to light," he added.
Gawker has pledged that if it cannot purchase the alleged video, it will donate the funds raised to a Canadian charity devoted to substance abuse issues.
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