Fontana Verdict June 13May 29, 2014 5:04pm
After four full days in court, mayor Joe Fontana left saying he feels “confident”.
The short trial was the mayor’s long-awaited chance to defend himself after more than a year-and-a-half of silence since the media story broke about an RCMP investigation into allegations that he paid for part of his son’s wedding with public dollars.
On Thursday, both the Crown and defence had a chance to sum up their arguments ahead of Justice Bruce Thomas’ judgement on June 13.
Fontana’s lawyer Gord Cudmore stood to say he would be “mercifully brief” before taking almost an hour to wrap up and answer Thomas’ many questions. Cudmore began by suggesting that it doesn’t make sense for Fontana to put his career on the line for $1,700 when his Member of Parliament budget totaled $280,000. He says that cheque never went to Fontana, and that accounting officer Michel Champagne testified no one from his office ever called looking for the money.
Cudmore argued there was a legitimate purpose for the $1700 deposit to the Marconi Club; for a cancelled reception for Ralph Goodale. He argued two witnesses –riding association president Beth Cormier and former Marconi president Vince Trovato– confirmed there was an event planned on February 25, 2005.
He argued the bottom line is that the government was not deceived, even though Fontana admits to changing a Marconi Club contract for his son’s wedding to a reception for Goodale. “The bottom line is that the government was not deceived in any, way shape or form,” Cudmore said.
“In my respectful submission, there was no fraud, no fraud was intended and no one was defrauded.”
Curmore argued Fontana’s testimony was believable and credible even though he was defensive during the Crown’s “grueling and grilling” cross examination. He said there was a substantial body of evidence to show there was a legitimate purpose for the $1700 cheque.
“No one, other than the Free Press and the police, suggested that cheque was for the wedding,” Cudmore quipped.
The difference between the arguments about where the money went, comes down to the math. The defence argued the total cost of the wedding was $18,900 (including Vicky Fontana’s $1,700 deposit), while the Crown suggests Vicky’s cheque was not included in the final total owing.
Finally, Justice Bruce Thomas asked Cudmore why a busy MP would sit down at his desk with a pen, whiteout and an eraser to alter a document when he could have just called his friends at the Marconi Club and asked for an invoice to submit?
“It’s stupid!” Cudmore answered. “And in hindsight, that would have been the answer.”
In his arguments, Crown Attorney Tim Zuber argued Fontana has a “strange defence” for allegedly forging the Marconi Club contract by saying that he made the alterations for a legitimate purpose. Zuber echoed concerns raised by Justice Thomas during Cudmore’s remarks that the contract was originally between the Fontana’s and former Marconi Club GM Joe DiPietro, and was not a contract for the event Fontana led the finance department to believe it was.
The Crown also slammed Fontana’s explanation that the Ralph Goodale event was ever booked at the Marconi Club, playing into its argument that Fontana was just trying to line his own pockets. The Crown picked on the defence’s last witness, Vince Trovato, saying he lied about DiPietro being on vacation. With DiPietro out of the picture, Trovato said that he booked the event and told a Fontana staffer that the deposit would be $1,700.
“I would submit that what he is doing is coming in at the 11th hour to help out a friend,” Zuber argued.
Zubers said that Fontana would have known when he realized the cheque went to the Marconi Club instead of to his office, that there was only one active account at the club that the money would have been applied to: his son’s wedding.
The last word, however, went to Cudmore.
“We all, sadly, do stupid things that we regret, but the good news is we all don’t get prosecuted for them,” Cudmore ended in response to a quip from Thomas.
Justice Thomas will deliver his judgement on Friday, June 13.
After the last day of trial, Fontana spoke briefly to the media outside the courthouse: