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Police charge London, Ont. mayor with fraud

London Mayor Joe Fontana in his office at City Hall in London on Feb. 9, 2012.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Joseph Fontana, the mayor of London, Ont., is facing criminal charges over allegations he used federal funds to help pay for his son's wedding reception.

The RCMP announced on Wednesday that Mr. Fontana has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and uttering a forged document. The charges date back to 2005, when Mr. Fontana was a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Fontana, who is under pressure from some London city councillors to step aside pending the outcome of the charges, plans to hold a news conference on Thursday afternoon at his lawyer's office.

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Neither he nor his lawyer responded to telephone messages or e-mails from The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. In a letter posted on his website on Monday, Mr. Fontana said he has no plans to step down.

"Make no mistake, I treat the allegations that have been levied as serious, but I have not and will not allow them to be a distraction from my duties and obligations of my office," he wrote. "I will not stand aside or leave my responsibilities as Mayor."

Mr. Fontana has rebuffed earlier efforts by some councillors to get him to relinquish his duties as mayor. Councillor Nancy Branscombe told The Globe the investigation has been "quite a big distraction" but she said there was not enough support to even get a motion calling for Mr. Fontana to temporarily resign on the floor for debate.

Councillor Joni Baechler plans to table a motion at the finance and administrative services committee on Monday, asking him to step aside. The motion is expected to pass. But under the provincial Municipal Act, council members cannot be forced out of office unless they are convicted of a criminal offence.

RCMP Sergeant Richard Rollings would not comment on the nature of the charges, beyond saying they involve the alleged inappropriate use of $1,700 in government funds in 2005. Mr. Fontana is accused of using the money to pay a deposit to the Marconi Club for the wedding reception of his son, Michael. The RCMP opened its investigation just over a month ago, after it was contacted by the House of Commons.

"The matter was brought to our attention and the House exercised due diligence and referred the matter the proper authorities, which are the RCMP," said spokeswoman Heather Bradley.

The House of Commons contacted the RCMP following a story in The London Free Press, which published a copy of the stub from the cheque, dated April 6, 2005. Mr. Fontana acknowledged in a statement on his website dated Oct. 21 that a review of his financial records "clearly indicates a personal payment made to the Marconi Club during the time frame in question."

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The general manager of the social club declined to comment when contacted by The Globe.

Mr. Fontana was the Liberal MP for London North Centre when the cheque was written. He was a fixture on Parliament Hill from 1988 until 2006 on Parliament Hill as an MP and a member of the "True Grit" rock band. He was the chairman of the Liberal caucus and of various parliamentary committees during the tenure of Jean Chrétien in the 1990s and early 2000s, and received a promotion to minister of labour after Paul Martin became Liberal leader and prime minister in 2003. Mr. Fontana quit his seat after the Liberals lost power in 2006 to make a run for the London mayoralty. He lost on his first attempt, but won in 2010.

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About the Authors

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

Parliamentary reporter

Daniel Leblanc studied political science at the University of Ottawa and journalism at Carleton University. He became a full-time reporter in 1998, first at the Ottawa Citizen and then in the Ottawa bureau of The Globe and Mail. More

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