London, Ont., Mayor Fontana denies fraud charges
'I am innocent,' he says about charges linked to his time as Liberal cabinet minister
London, Ont., Mayor Joe Fontana said Thursday he will not step down as mayor and intends to plead not guilty to fraud charges filed against him this week.
"I am innocent of all of these charges and I intend to fight as hard as I can to clear my name," he said at a news conference held Thursday. "I've been given a mandate by the people of London. People call me every day saying they like the work I’m doing as mayor."
Fontana was charged Wednesday with fraud under $5,000, breach of trust by a public official and uttering forged documents.
The RCMP say the charges are linked to alleged inappropriate use of funds when he was a federal Liberal cabinet minister.
The London Free Press has reported that two government of Canada cheques were given to a London club to cover the cost of the wedding reception for Fontana's son in 2005. Fontana was federal labour minister at the time.
Fontana said he will step down from London’s police services board, but will stay on as mayor despite increased pressure to step down.
At the Thursday news conference, Fontana’s lawyer, Gordon Cudmore, said his client would not answer specific questions about the charges.
When reporters ignored Cudmore's request and directed questions at Fontana, his lawyer repeatedly told his client: "Don't answer that.
"The fact is the Fontana family paid for the wedding," said Cudmore.
"The allegations at present pertain to a $1,700 room deposit. We will be entering not-guilty pleas and we will be defending these charges."
Cudmore also said that Fontana will not resign as mayor, despite pleas from other members of London council calling on him to step aside pending the outcome of the investigation.
Earlier Thursday, Coun. Paul Hubert told CBC News Fontana should step aside while the investigation is underway.
"Our challenge is to restore confidence in the office of the mayor," the city councillor told CBC News. "And that will only happen if Mr. Fontana steps aside."
With files from CBC's Gary Ennett, The Canadian Press