(Marisa Hobbs (left) and Mayor Keith Hobbs in a still image taken from a YouTube video of a party in the basement of Thunder Bay lawyer Sandy Zaitzeff’s home.)
Jorge Barrera and Willow Fiddler
APTN National News
The extortion charges filed against Thunder Bay mayor Keith Hobbs and his wife are enmeshed with criminal cases unfolding against the city’s police chief and a local lawyer facing a litany of assault and sexual assault charges, including one involving a minor, court records show.
A review of the court record reveals threads connecting the cases involving the obstruction of justice and breach of trust charges against Thunder Bay police chief J.P. Levesque, the multitude of charges against lawyer Sandy Zaitzeff, 68, and the recently revealed charges against Hobbs, 65, who is a former police officer, his wife Marisa Hobbs, 53, and a woman named Mary Voss, 46.
Court records also show three police forces, Thunder Bay police, Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP, were all involved in investigating separate parts of these entangled criminal cases.
The legal woes now facing the mayor and police chief come as the city is grappling with a crisis that has engulfed its police force over the perceived mishandling of death investigations involving Indigenous peoples.
A coroner’s inquest jury examining the deaths of seven Anishinaabe youth concluded last year it could not determine what led to the drownings of three youth who were found in the city’s waterways. This called into question the effectiveness of the Thunder Bay police’s investigations.
Two more Anishinaabe youth were found dead in the city’s waterways this past May and Ontario’s Chief Coroner asked York Regional Police to investigate the deaths after First Nation leaders called for the RCMP to take over the cases because they had no confidence in the abilities of the Thunder Bay police.
The city has also developed a reputation for rampant racism. It has the highest rate of police reported hate incidents against Inidgenous peoples in the country. Barbara Kentner, an Anishinaabe woman, died this month from injuries the family believes were inflicted during a targeted assault in January. Kentner was hit with a trailer hitch thrown from a car with four occupants. Only one of the occupants, Brayden Bushby, 18, was charged with aggravated assault. It still remains unclear whether the charge will be upgraded as a result of Kentner’s death.
Now the mayor of Thunder Bay and the police chief are both on extended leaves as a result of linked criminal cases that began with the downfall of a long-time local lawyer facing a multitude of sexual assault, assault and weapons charges.
Hobbs, his wife and Voss are all facing extortion charges filed by the OPP related to an alleged attempt to “induce” local lawyer Sandy Zaitzeff into purchasing a house for Voss under the threat of taking criminal allegations against him to police, according to the court file. The alleged extortion occurred between Oct. 19 and Nov. 20, 2016.
The Hobbs couple is also charged with obstruction of justice over allegedly trying to interfere with an RCMP investigation into an extortion complaint.
Court records reveal Zaitzeff is charged with several counts of assaulting Voss. The charges were filed last November by Thunder Bay police. Zaitzeff was also charged with violating a no-contact order by attempting to communicate with Voss after the assault charges were initially filed, according to court records.
According to civil court records, Hobbs warned Zaitzeff last fall he planned to take “allegations of sexual impropriety” against the lawyer to the police. Zaitzteff responded on Nov. 19, 2016, by saying he would “bury” Hobbs, according to a defamation lawsuit filed by Hobbs against Zaitzeff.
Zaitzeff was charged on Nov. 21, 2016, with three counts of sexual assault and one count of assault against a minor. He was also charged that day with assaulting Voss. He has since faced a number of additional sexual assault charges involving other victims. He was also charged with the unlicensed possession of two shotguns and a semi-automatic rifle.
A month before the alleged threat and charges, Hobbs was filmed by his wife at an Oct. 25, 2016, party held in Zaitzeff’s basement.
On Dec. 19, 2016, the video of the house party was uploaded to YouTube. Hobbs later filed a defamation lawsuit against Zaitzeff over the video which he said damaged his political reputation and influenced his decision not to seek another term in office. Hobbs was first elected in 2010.
It was around this time—between Dec. 14 and Dec. 22, 2016—when Thunder Bay police Chief J.P. Levesque allegedly disclosed confidential information about Hobbs, which led to charges filed by the OPP of breach of trust and obstruction of justice against the chief, according to court records.
The OPP has never publicly said what confidential information Levesque disclosed about Hobbs or to whom it was disclosed. However, the court record shows Hobbs and his wife caught wind the RCMP was investigating an extortion complaint against the mayor around the same time Levesque disclosed the confidential information.
Hobbs and his wife allegedly began to interfere in the fledgling RCMP investigation between Dec. 21, 2016, and May of this year, the OPP alleged.
The police chief was charged in May.
OPP Det.-Supt. Dave Truax led the investigations into Hobbs and Levesque, according to the OPP.
APTN National News first learned of an ongoing OPP investigation of Hobbs in June. APTN spoke with a friend of one of Zaitzeff’s victims who also knew Hobbs. The friend said that Hobbs was trying to help the victim.
APTN also previously contacted Hobbs about the possibility he was under an OPP investigation. Hobbs told APTN at the time he believed he did nothing wrong.
“Where I come from innocent people don’t have to be worried about that kind of rumour, so I’m not worried,” said Hobbs, in a June 15 email.
In a statement issued by their lawyers, the Hobbs couple maintained their innocence.
“These charges are unjustified and will be vigorously defended,” said the statement, issued by lawyers Brian Greenspan and Naomi Lutes. “Mayor Hobbs and his wife are hopeful that the community with not prejudge these unproven charges and are grateful for the continued support of their many colleagues, family and friends.”
Zaitzeff was once involved in a class action lawsuit against the RCMP over the harassment of women officers.
The Hobbs couple and Voss are scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 26. They are under a no-contact order that includes three RCMP officers.