Jim Karygiannis says he was approached by unnamed people who wanted to donate to his campaign after election day, which is why he held a $27,000 dinner that is central to his ouster from office.
But a Toronto resident who has challenged Karygiannis’s expenses and has made his own submissions in court, says the now former councillor is only trying to backpedal and that the financial statements that got him kicked out of office were a “misguided attempt” to avoid discipline.
Karygiannis will be in court Thursday to argue for his office back. Elector Adam Chaleff is intervening in that application after raising concerns about Karygiannis’s extraordinary expenses and contributions raised.
Court submissions have been made separately on behalf of Karygiannis, Chaleff and the city after Karygiannis applied for relief from forfeiture of office. None of them have been tested in court.
In his affidavit, affirmed Nov. 12 and filed in court, Karygiannis says that after voting day in October 2018, he was “approached by a number of people who expressed an interest in donating to my campaign.”
“On December 21, 2018, I held a dinner party at Santorini Grill to which I invited persons who had agreed to contribute to my election campaign following election day. This was not an event to which my supporters in general were invited, but rather, was an event to which I invited only those persons who agreed to make contributions to my election campaign,” the affidavit says.
“It was an opportunity for people who had agreed to contribute to my campaign to network with one another, and was not open to the public or to my supporters in general.”
Karygiannis goes on to say that in his view, the expenses for the party “were incurred for the purpose of fundraising and were not subject to either the general spending limit or the spending limit for expressions of appreciation after the close of voting.”
It’s not clear what, if any, contributions were made that are connected to the dinner. According to records filed with the city, no contributions were made in December 2018. A number of donations were made in November, after the election.
Karygiannis was suddenly removed from office Nov. 6 after the clerk determined the Ward 22 (Scarborough-Agincourt) councillor had overspent a strict expenses limit by nearly $26,000.
Karygiannis initially classified the dinner as a fundraiser, which was one of the issues Chaleff raised in a request for a compliance audit with a city-appointed committee. Chaleff has argued the dinner shouldn’t have been classified as a fundraiser and should have been subject to campaign limits.
That request for an audit followed reporting by the Scarborough Mirror and toronto.com about Karygiannis’s unusually large fundraising haul in the 2018 race. Karygiannis had raised a total of $217,000 to fund a campaign that had a spending limit of just $61,207.95.
After an audit was ordered by the committee, Karygiannis asked to reopen his campaign in order to raise funds to pay for legal costs of the audit. In doing so, he was required to file a supplementary financial statement. In that new filing, the dinner was moved to a category for parties and other “expressions of appreciation” which was subject to a $6,120.80 limit for Ward 22. A $5,000 expense for a victory day party was also moved into that category, putting Karygiannis’s total at $32,083.50.
Under the Municipal Elections Act, overspending of that limit means immediate forfeiture of office.
In his affidavit, Karygiannis says longtime forensic accountant Ken Froese assisted with the preparation of his supplementary statement. That statement, Karygiannis says, contained an “error” that “arose because of my intended response to any subsequent substantive allegations in the compliance audit.”
Karygiannis said it was determined that the $5,000 victory party should have been listed as a party or other expression of appreciation “from the outset.” That party would have been under the limit for that category, Karygiannis notes.
Karygiannis does not detail why the dinner ended up in the same category, but says: “I remain of the view that it was properly characterized as a fundraising expense” for reasons earlier stated and that he planned to argue “legal proceedings were not warranted.”
He says the party could “not possibly have affected the election result because voting had concluded more than two months earlier” but if that argument was not persuasive that his legal argument would be that the contravention was “the result of a good faith error in judgment, and I should not forfeit my office.”
There is no information filed on behalf of Froese, the forensic accountant. Reached by phone Tuesday, he declined to comment for this story.
A factum filed on behalf of Chaleff notes Karygiannis blames Froese but “has produced no documentary or testimonial evidence from his accountant, his auditor, or anyone else on his campaign to corroborate this account” and argues the court cannot accept that explanation.
“The simpler and more plausible explanation for what happened in this case is that Mr. Karygiannis intended to reclassify the $27,803 dinner expense in a misguided attempt to bolster his defence in the compliance audit proceeding. Indeed, this is precisely the explanation he gives for other illegal modifications he made to the original filing. He was unaware of the consequences of his actions and now is trying to undo his mistake.”
The dinner included expenses for just over $4,032 for food and drink at Santorini Grill in Thornhill, as well as $11,300 paid to pollster Nick Kouvalis’s Campaign Support for “fundraising event services.”
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A separate affidavit of a top city election official filed by the city says Karygiannis was twice notified that he had missed deadlines to file financial statements that led to his removal.
According to Fiona Murray, Toronto’s deputy clerk of election services, Karygiannis missed a Sept. 27 deadline to file his supplementary financial statement, and missed an Oct. 11 deadline to file his subsequent financial statement.
Murray also says that Karygiannis attended three information sessions about campaign rules and that he was made aware of expense limits for his ward.