Politics
Audit finds London mayor and friends pocketed $8M from charity

London Mayor Joe Fontana walks into the court house in London, Ont. on Tuesday October 29, 2013. Fontana is facing a trial for three criminal charges.

Credits: CRAIG GLOVER/London Free Press/QMI Agency

CHIP MARTIN | QMI AGENCY

LONDON, Ont. -- Nearly seven months after its charitable status was revoked, a foundation for which Mayor Joe Fontana remains a director was still using its federally issued tax registration number on its website.

A Toronto lawyer speaking on behalf of Trinity Global Support Foundation said the number would be removed "in due course" after QMI Agency questioned the foundation Monday about its use.

Several hours later, the foundation's website was a blackground with the words "Under Construction" in white type.

Trinity Global continues to promote school meal programs and shipping HIV/AIDS medicine to Africa on its website.

"It's being deceptive, a misrepresentation," Toronto tax lawyer and expert in charity law Mark Blumberg told QMI Agency on Monday.

MORE: Fontana charged with using federal tax money to pay for son's wedding reception

"An organization shouldn't claim to be a registered charity with a Canada Revenue Agency charity registration number if it no longer has that registered number," he said.

"Fundraising in this way is deceptive, and the public guardian and trustee (of Ontario) should investigate it," said Blumberg, who produces an online charity law newsletter about charities and government oversight of them.

Trinity Global issued $152 million in charitable receipts to donors in its final fiscal year.

Neither Fontana, who was chair of Trinity Global, nor his son, Ugo, its president, returned calls, referring the matter to Toronto lawyer Duane Milot who downplayed it.

"Trinity has not raised any funds since its charitable status was revoked," Milot said in an e-mail.

"Since being revoked, Trinity has not used its charitable registration number and issued any receipts."

Potential donors are advised they cannot be issued tax receipts and are referred to other charities that can, Milot said.

"The fact that it was still on their website means nothing -- it was purely for informational purposes for past donors," Milot said. "However, in the interest of not creating any further confusion, Trinity's webmaster has been advised to remove any references to its charitable registration number in due course."

He said Trinity has filed a notice of objection to its revocation to the federal Tax and Charities Appeals Directorate.

Blumberg said the public guardian and trustee of Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General has a mandate to protect the public interest when it comes to charities, but the office usually declines to act, saying it's a federal matter.

A spokesperson for attorney general's office said questions about Trinity Global's use of its tax number should be directed to the Canada Revenue Agency because it has jurisdiction over charitable registration.

Trinity Global was established in 2007 and Joe Fontana was brought into it by its founder, his boyhood chum Vince Ciccone, a year later. Donations skyrocketed until it was shut down May 4 with revocation.

The CRA said the foundation had strayed from its charitable purpose and had become overly focused on issuing tax receipts. And an audit found $8 million raised for hungry school kids and to fight HIV/AIDS went into the pockets of Joe Fontana and fellow directors of the charity.

The federal revenue agency said it has denied more than $4.5 billion in "tax shelter" arrangements like Trinity and reassessed more than 130,000 taxpayers.

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