Politics
Fontana faces criminal charges over son's wedding payment

London, Ontario Mayor Joe Fontana.

Credits: DEREK RUTTAN/ The London Free Press /QMI AGENCY

CHIP MARTIN | QMI AGENCY

LONDON, ON -- The mayor who said he isn't going anywhere is going to court.

Joe Fontana is to appear in a London courtroom Jan. 8 on three criminal charges arising from using a federal government cheque to pay the deposit on a son's wedding reception in 2005, when Fontana was a federal Liberal cabinet minister.

QMI Agency broke the story about the use of two Public Works cheques worth a bit more than $20,000 on Oct. 19.

The charge announced Wednesday relates to a $1,700 cheque, it's understood.

The RCMP confirmed Fontana, 62, faces three counts: breach of trust by a public officer, fraud under $5,000 and uttering forged documents.

They relate to when Fontana was the Liberal MP for London-North-Centre and housing and labour minister in Paul Martin's government.

The Mounties had been called in by an all-party House of Commons committee that oversees MPs' spending.

Fontana, London mayor since 2010 and midway through his four-year term, didn't respond to calls for comment Wednesday. His lawyer, Gord Cudmore, said a news conference will be held Thursday at 1 p.m. to respond to the charges.

Fontana is expected to make a brief statement at that time.

Faced with an RCMP investigation, Fontana at first said he'd produce personal documentation relating to the wedding reception for his son Michael at the Marconi Club. But after he hired Cudmore, Fontana clammed up. Still, he repeatedly said he had no plans to step aside for the duration of the investigation.

"I'm not going anywhere," he vowed at one point.

It's understood Fontana appeared at the RCMP's "O" Division headquarters in London Wednesday and was formally arrested and released on a promise to appear in court.

Some council members tried to ask Fontana to step aside as the investigation continued, but they failed to win enough support for council to consider the idea.

Another attempt is expected next week, as some members of council who've steadfastly supported Fontana said Wednesday they were shaken by the charges.

Amid the controversy embroiling the mayor, tempers have flared during council and committee meetings among members. A sharp clash broke out at council Tuesday between Fontana supporter Stephen Orser and Joni Baechler, who wants the mayor to step aside.

As mayor, Fontana is head of a municipal corporation that spends about $1 billion a year. He also has a seat on the police services board.

Fontana is an honorary member of the East London social club where his son's 2005 wedding was held.

The investigation began a couple of weeks after a Sept. 18 council meeting at which Fontana rejected the post of integrity commissioner at city hall. He said his ethics and those of council members are above reproach.

"I just happen to hold a position of trust from the public," he told council. "I don't believe anyone's integrity should be questioned."

A source told QMI Agency the cheques were routed through Fontana's MP office, rather than his ministerial one.

-- With files by Jane Sims

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