Credits: MIKE HENSEN/The London Free Press/QMI AGENCY
LONDON, ON -- Federal tax dollars paid the $1,700 deposit on the 2005 wedding reception for Mayor Joe Fontana's son, QMI Agency has learned.
And the then-manager of the London facility recalls another cheque issued by the feds appeared several months later to cover the outstanding $18,900 Fontana still owed.
A Public Works Canada cheque stub for $1,700, obtained by QMI Agency, bears an invoice number that matches that on the contract signed for the event at the Marconi Club.
Meanwhile, as Mounties look into the matter, former club manager Joe DiPietro said he chased Fontana for six months before the sizeable second cheque materialized.
"I remember this vividly," DiPietro said as he identified the cheque stub and the contract he signed with Joe and Vicky Fontana as well as the final bill he prepared showing the outstanding amount.
At the time of the June 4, 2005, wedding reception for his son, Michael, Fontana was Liberal MP for London North Centre and federal minister of labour and housing. A source requesting anonymity said Fontana submitted expense claims for the cheques through his office as an MP and not his ministerial one.
Fontana, for his part, was not talking. Asked a series of questions several times this week about his dealings with the Marconi Club and the payments, Fontana did not respond.
DiPietro said his experience with Fontana seven years ago prompted him to be wary.
"I put all the documents together and made copies," he said. "When I left (the club) in 2009, they might have been stored in my files. I had everything because I said one of these days this will be coming back to haunt him."
DiPietro said the contract for the reception was signed Oct. 20, 2004, but the government cheque for the deposit didn't arrive for months. The cheque stub is dated April 6, 2005 -- six months later.
Both cheques, DiPietro said, were issued by the government of Canada because he recognized the tiny maple leaf printed on them. And he was startled by that.
"Most of the members of our community don't make that kind of money (as an MP) and then I get a government cheque," he said. "Jesus, he's not even paying for it -- it's coming out of our pockets."
He recalled Fontana appealed to the Marconi board, saying he deserved a discount on the bill and $1,000 was eventually lopped off it.
DiPietro said he has no idea who obtained documents and sent them to QMI Agency.
Meanwhile, another source anxious for anonymity has confirmed Fontana submitted the request for payment through his MP's office.
At the House of Commons, Heather Bradley, director of communications for the Speaker of the House, was asked on Sept. 30 by QMI Agency for records relating to the payments, but after three weeks had produced none.
"The matter was brought to the attention of the House of Commons and the House has taken up the matter with the proper authorities," she said Wednesday.
"The House is exercising due diligence," she said, declining further comment.
Once approved by the House, payments sought by MPs for office-related expenses are covered by Public Works cheques.
Late last week, two Mounties armed with documents, questioned at least two Londoners about Fontana and the payment of Marconi Club bills.
Officially, the RCMP declined to acknowledge any involvement.
"We don't comment on ongoing investigations," London RCMP spokesperson Richard Rollings said this week. The force will neither confirm nor deny it has any individual under scrutiny, he added.
At age 62, Fontana is about to mark the halfway point of his four-year term as mayor.
Last month, the mayor stoutly rejected calls for an ethics commissioner when creating the position was raised at city hall.
Fontana assured Londoners his ethics are above reproach.
"I don't think I'm smarter than anybody else, better than anybody else," Fontana told council Sept. 18. "I just happen to hold a position of trust from the public. That's all they ask, that we do the best we can do. I don't believe anyone's integrity should be questioned."
On Sept. 25 Fontana paid another outstanding Marconi Club bill he had quarrelled about.
Meanwhile, a political scientist, who has called for an integrity commissioner in London, says trust in public officials, generally, is "hanging by a thread."
Paul Nesbitt-Larking, who teaches at Huron University College, Western University, declined to comment on Fontana's business dealings.
But such matters, he said, do little to combat growing cynicism about elected officials.
Canada and Britain, he said, face "really serious and challenging times when it comes to public trust in government."
"Trust in public officials is really hanging by a thread these days," Nesbitt-Larking said.
"As soon as we can get these kinds of issues resolved and dealt with -- and, hopefully, public officials educated and codes of conduct tightened up and principles of integrity put in place -- the public will be better served," he said.