Fontana Takes The Stand

Joe Fontana, his wife and lawyers arrive at court

Since the allegations of fraud were presented in 2012, Joe Fontana has said he would present his side of the story once he knew the facts.

On Wednesday, the mayor had his chance to do just that in court. His lawyer, Gord Cudmore, took him through what they claim is the real story.

Fontana claims he had planned a meet-and-greet reception at the Marconi Club on February 25, 2005 to host then-federal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, who was coming to London for an event at the Chamber of Commerce.

Fontana says he personally called club president, and friend, Vince Trovato to ask him to reserve a hall for him that Friday night.

Then, days before, Fontana claims he was told Goodale would arrive in London too late on Friday to attended the meet-and-greet, so the event was cancelled. Fontana says he still felt obligated to pay the club a $1,700 deposit for the hall.

Fontana says when he went to submit the contract to the House of Commons, he used the contract drawn up for the wedding to create a “new contract” for a “new event”.

“In retrospect, probably stupidly, I made a mistake,” Fontana said to Cudmore.

Fontana claims that it was always his intention for the $1,700 cheque to be paid to the Marconi Club, not to his office.

“Was the cheque ever intended to pay for the wedding?” Cudmore asked.

“Absolutely not, it’s a personal expense,” Fontana replied.

Once the defence had tied up its story, Crown Attorney Tim Zuber sought to unravel it again.

Zuber began by grilling the mayor on why he told RCMP officer Shawn Devine that he had never before seen the documents he was shown on November 21, 2012 during his arrest, or why he continually insinuated the signature on the Marconi Club contract was not his own. Fontana repeated multiple times that it was seven-and-a-half years later, and that he wasn’t expecting to be interrogated when he turned himself in.

“It was all happening so fast, that’s the truth,” Fontana said to Zuber.

And then, Zuber seemed to suck all the oxygen out of the room with one question.

“Tell me this, in your 18 years as an MP how many documents did you falsify?”

Long pause.

“Pardon?”

“You heard the question,” Zuber quipped back.

“None,” Fontana finally answered.

“Then why wouldn’t you remember this one?” Zuber pressed.

Fontana told Zuber he “changed” the document, not falsified it.

Zuber zeroed in on why, if Fontana was friends with the president of the Marconi Club, would he not have just called Trovato to ask for a bill for the deposit, instead of creating his own. He suggested instead, Fontana sat down at home and did everything he could to fool the finance department at the House of Commons into thinking his claim was legitimate. Fontana admitted he used white out and an eraser to make the changes before faxing the document to his office in Ottawa.

Where Fontana and Zuber part ways however, is that Zuber says he thinks the mayor knew what he was doing was wrong, while Fontana insists he was creating a new “true document” for a separate event.

One thing they do agree on is that Fontana did not intend for the money to go help pay off his son’s wedding bill.

“You were going to line your pockets,” Zuber accused Fontana.

“Wrong,” Fontana hit back.

On Wednesday afternoon, the defence called two more witness before resting its case. Former London-Fanshawe Federal Liberal Association president, lawyer Elizabeth Cormier confirmed for the court that she remembers the event that was planned for Goodale’s trip to London. She says she remember the riding associations had lists of people to call to notify them that the event was cancelled. She said the event had been booked by Fontana and that the invitation came from his office.

Cudmore ended with testimony from former Marconi president Vince Trovato. Trovato said someone from Fontana’s office called in the first week of February 2005 to book the event for Goodale’s visit, and he told her there would be a $1700 deposit for the hall. He told Cudmore that a few days before the booked event, Fontana called him to cancel because of “delays’. He said in April 2005, when the cheque arrived GM Joe DiPietro asked what it was for and he said he told him a political event that was cancelled, but there was never any talk of the money being used towards the Fontana wedding.

In the cross-examination by Crown attorney Zuber he picked at holes in Trovato’s testimony. Zuber asked why Trovato never talked to DiPietro before the event to make arrangements for food and staff. DiPietro said nothing about the political event for Goodale in his testimony. Trovato said he wrote the event down in the planner, but admitted he never left a note for DiPietro with instructions to follow-up.

Zuber also pressed him why he never came forward to help Fontana with the information since he had admittedly known him for more than 40 years.

“I thought this whole thing was a farce,” Trovato told Zuber. He also admitted he never called Fontana when he was charged to tell him what he remembered.

“I did not know in 2012 that is would come to this,” Travato tried explaining.

With that, the defence rested its case.

Before counsel left, Justice Thomas asked them a question to consider for their closing statements on Thursday. He posed to the lawyers that if he buys into the defence’s argument on the charges of fraud and breach of trust, what should he do with the charge of uttering forged documents.

Court resumes at 10am on Thursday.