LONDON, Ont. — The mayor of London, Ont., admits that as a member of Parliament he altered a contract that he submitted for expenses, but the $1,700 the government paid out was not for his son’s wedding, his lawyer said Monday.
Joe Fontana, who has refused to step down as mayor while his case is before the courts, pleaded not guilty to fraud, uttering a forged document and breach of trust by a public official on the first day of his trial.
The Crown alleges Fontana — then a Liberal cabinet minister — wrote a $1,700 cheque as a deposit for his son’s 2005 wedding reception at the Marconi Club in London then submitted a claim for government expenses along with a “significantly altered” version of the contract that secured the club as the wedding venue.
A $1,700 cheque was ultimately issued by the government and was sent directly to the Marconi Club and was applied to the total cost of the wedding, the Crown alleged.
Among the alterations on the contract were changing the date of the event from June 25, 2005 to Feb. 25, 2004, the word “wedding” to “reception” on the contract under the section for purpose of the event, the addition of a yellow sticky note saying “misc constituents reception” as well as the word “original” added in blue ink.
Crown attorney Timothy Zuber said evidence will be called to show there was no constituents’ reception at the Marconi Club on Feb. 25, 2004 — in fact, Fontana was in the House of Commons in Ottawa and registered a vote.
Fontana’s lawyer, Gord Cudmore, said the 2004 was an error, that it was supposed to read Feb. 25, 2005, a date which he said would become important.
Fontana admits making those changes, Cudmore said, but what is at issue in the trial is the purpose of the $1,700 cheque.
“What was its intended purpose and what was it submitted for?” Cudmore said at the outset of the judge-alone trial.
“You will find in the course of the evidence called it is the position of the defence that the cheque had nothing whatsoever to do with the wedding.”
Fontana’s recollection was spottier at the time of his post-arrest police interview in 2012. In a meandering videotaped statement Fontana is shown the documents, but insists he can’t confirm it is his signature on the altered version.
“I don’t know about you, but when I’m signing it may be different each and every time,” Fontana told RCMP Const. Shawn Devine, saying it looks different depending on the pen he uses.
“That J looks off. I’m just saying.”
The original contract was signed Oct. 20, 2004 by Fontana and his wife to rent two halls at the Marconi Club for a June 25, 2005, wedding, court heard. The wedding ultimately took place June 4.
Joseph DiPietro, who was at the time the general manager of the Marconi Club, testified that they gave him a $1,700 deposit.
Several months later, in July 2005, he also received a Government of Canada cheque for $1,700. He has no independent recollection of getting the cheque, but doesn’t remember Fontana or anyone specifically telling him it was for the wedding, he said under cross-examination by Cudmore.
Cudmore suggested DiPietro had asked the president of the club what the cheque was for, and that the president told him it was for a different event, but DiPietro said he did not remember.
Court heard that when staff in Fontana’s Parliament Hill office submitted the expense claim, the cheque ended up being sent to the Marconi Club, instead of Fontana himself.
Kristy Cairns, who was his legislative assistant at the time, testified that the wording of her letter to the comptroller was to pay the expense to Fontana, but she agreed under cross-examination that it could be taken to mean it should be payable to the venue itself. She did not remember if the invoice for the deposit was also included.
The total owing for the wedding was $18,900, DiPietro testified — the amount minus the $1,700 deposit. He received $8,630 from the bride’s parents, $5,000 from Fontana, $3,570 from Fontana’s mother.
Records seized from the Marconi Club show five cheques were used to make payment on the wedding, Zuber said, the fifth being a Government of Canada cheque in the amount of $1,700.