London Mayor Joe Fontana 'shocked' by guilty verdict in fraud trial
Published Friday, June 13, 2014 9:15AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, June 13, 2014 11:05AM EDT
London Mayor Joe Fontana reacted with shock and devastation after being found guilty on three counts in his fraud trial.
Voice trembling, he says, "I'm very surprised, shocked, devastated, by obviously the verdict. And obviously I'm so appreciative of the support that I've gotten from my legal team, my wife, my kids, supporters. You know and I regret all this had to happen, especially for the people of London."
The verdict came down Friday at superior court in London, where Justice Bruce Thomas found Fontana guilty of fraud under $5,000, uttering forged documents and breach of trust.
Fontana admitted on the stand that as a member of Parliament he altered a contract that he submitted for expenses in 2005, but had argued the $1,700 the government paid out was not for his son's wedding.
But the judge said Fontana abused the public trust when he altered that contract, and that the former MP and the president of the Marconi Club - where the wedding was held - concocted a story for the court intended to create reasonable doubt.
Thomas also said he could not understand "why a man of such accomplishments might choose to take these actions for the sum of $1,700," but that did not detract from the strength of the Crown's case.
As for whether he will appeal, Fontana's attorney Gord Cudmore says "We'll certainly talk about it...I'm disappointed obviously. You know, we felt we had a good defence, the judge has made his ruling and we have to abide by that and respect that."
Sentencing is scheduled for July 15, and Cudmore says the repercussions could range from an absolute discharge to time spent in custody.
In the meantime, Fontana says, "I will make a statement in the near future with regards to what I intend to do. I obviously need to digest what has taken place, talk to my legal team and look at what I'm going to do."
Future as mayor up in the air
Fontana had refused to step down as London mayor during the trial and it remains unclear whether he will resign now.
A criminal conviction does not require Fontana to leave his position as in other Canadian provinces, but under Ontario's Municipal Act a sentence that includes jail time would.
Still political pressure is building for him step down immediately, even from those who have been his staunchest supporters.
Councillor Stephen Orser says "The mayor had a fair trial, that's what I fought for. Justice has spoken now the honourable thing to do is resign."
For the moment, Fontana can choose to stay on, take a leave of absence or resign.
Councillor Nancy Branscombe says the longer the wait for his decision, the longer London is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
"I don't think he should drag the city through this. I think he should do the honourable thing and decide that it's time to close this chapter."
According to the city clerk, if Fontana steps down soon, at the next council meeting on June 24 councillors would have to select a new person to hold the position, either from among those in council or the general public.
With files from The Canadian Press