"I'm innocent." Joe Fontana, the mayor of London, Ontario, is vigorously defending himself after being charged Wednesday by the RCMP with three Criminal Code offences: breach of trust, fraud and uttering forged documents.
Many in this Southwestern Ontario city wondered whether or not the mayor would step down.
The issue was raised at the Thursday afternoon press conference in the offices of local lawyer Gord Cudmore. A reporter asked, "Is he (Fontana) planning to step aside?" The mayor immediately and very firmly answered, "No . . . I'm not going to abandon my post."
While there is nothing in Ontario municipal law to force a locally elected politician out of office, the police services board is another matter.
Fontana announced early in the press conference, "Last night I submitted my resignation to the London Police Services Board." Lawyer Cudmore explained that simply facing charges made it impossible for Fontana to continue serving on the board.
The story of Fontana's alleged misconduct was originally reported by the local paper, The London Free Press. The paper claimed federal dollars were used to pay a $1700 deposit on a 2005 wedding reception for Fontana's son. The paper said they had a copy of the Public Works Canada cheque stub to back up their claim.
The paper also reported:
"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."
At the press conference, Cudmore made a clear distinction between the two amounts, the $18,900 and the $1700. The lawyer pointed out that the charges filed by the RCMP only referred to the lesser of the two amounts. Cudmore said that he understands that the RCMP have proof the main bills were paid by the Fontana family.
Fontana's lawyer went on to say, "From what I've seen so far . . . there is a very valid defence to the allegations." All will be explained in a court room, he said. The mayor's first appearance in court will be January 8th.
Cudmore defended Fontana's decision to remain mayor while the matter was before the courts. "We have a presumption of innocence in this country. . . . If Joe is prepared to focus on the city, so should they (city council)."
Leaving the press conference, Fontana remarked, "I don't read The London Free Press anymore." Patrick Maloney, a reporter with the paper, said this was very interesting as city taxpayers paid $280 for the mayor's subscription to the local paper.