The mayor of London, Ont., has been charged by the RCMP with fraud following an investigation into allegations that he misused public funds in 2005 when he was a federal cabinet minister and Liberal member of Parliament.
The force issued a news release Wednesday saying Joe Fontana has been charged with fraud under $5,000, breach of trust by a public official and uttering forged documents. In the Criminal Code of Canada, anyone who uses, deals with or acts on a document they know is forged or causes another person to do so is acting against the law.
A London Free Press article, published in October, alleged that the former federal cabinet minister used more than $20,000 in cheques from the government of Canada to help pay for his son's wedding reception in 2005. Fontana was the Liberal MP for London North Centre at the time.
The Free Press reported that two payments were made to the Marconi Club banquet hall, the wedding venue. The first was a deposit of $1,700 and the second for nearly $19,000.
Sgt. Richard Rollings, spokesman for the London detachment of the RCMP told CBC News that the charge of fraud was laid in connection to the deposit for the smaller amount. He said that there was not enough evidence to lay charges in connection with the larger amount.
The RCMP said it was contacted by the House of Commons in October about an alleged inappropriate use of funds by Fontana.
In a letter posted to his website on Oct. 22, after the matter was referred to the RCMP for review, Fontana said he retained counsel and instructed them to co-operate with the review. He said he was advised not to make any further public comment until the review was completed.
Fontana has denied the accusations.
Mayor will address political future Thursday
In a letter posted on his website on Tuesday, he did not directly address the allegations but said he would not let them interfere with his job as mayor.
"Make no mistake, I treat the allegations that have been levied as serious, but I have not and will not allow them to be a distraction from my duties and obligations of my office," Fontana wrote.
"I will not stand aside or leave my responsibilities as mayor," wrote Fontana. "We will stay focused on the job we were elected to do."
London radio station AM980 said a news conference has been scheduled for Thursday in which the mayor is to address his political future. Fontana's lawyer, Gordon Cudmore, refused to tell the radio station whether Fontana would announce plans to temporarily step aside as mayor.
A motion calling on Fontana to temporarily step aside as mayor pending the outcome of the RCMP investigation was introduced at council on Oct. 30 but was shut down without debate.
City councillor Joni Baechler told CBC News that she is going to introduce a motion next week that Fontana take a leave of absence, unless he voluntarily steps down.
An online petition with nearly 1,000 signatures calls for Fontana to temporarily resign from office until the charges against him have been resolved.
Fontana's first court appearance is scheduled for the new year. He is to appear at the London Provincial Court House on Jan. 8, 2013.
This story has been edited from an earlier version to change the description of the cheques used to "government of Canada cheques" rather than "Public Works cheques." According to the government, all federal cheques carry a Public Works logo, which does not necessarily indicate their source.Nov 22, 2012 10:13 AM ET