Convicted former London, Ont., mayor spared jail time, gets house arrest

Joe Fontana, the former mayor of London, Ont., who was convicted of fraud-related offences from his time as a federal Liberal cabinet minister, was sentenced Tuesday to four months of house arrest and 18 months of probation.

LONDON, Ont. — Joe Fontana, the former mayor of London, Ont., who was convicted of fraud-related offences from his time as a federal Liberal cabinet minister, was sentenced Tuesday to four months of house arrest and 18 months of probation.

Superior Court Judge Bruce Thomas sentenced Fontana for fraud and breach of trust by a public official, saying “personal gain appears to be the only motive” for the fraud.

“It may be in our terms a small pebble…but its ripple effect stretches further and lasts longer than the mass of the deed would seem,” Thomas said.

Fontana resigned last month as mayor after he was found guilty of three fraud-related offences for forging an expense document in 2005 that resulted in a $1,700 government fraud.

At the start of the sentencing hearing Tuesday, the judge stayed the forgery count, because it was closely connected to the fraud.

Crown Attorney Timothy Zuber had called for Fontana to spend four to six months in jail for fraud and breach of trust by a public official.

Fontana told the judge before the sentence that he regrets the pain and embarrassment he has caused.

“Nine years ago I did something very, very stupid, very, very, very wrong,” Fontana said during an opportunity to address the judge before he is sentenced for fraud and breach of trust by a public official.

“I made a big, big mistake. What’s ensued since then is I’ve disgraced my family, my mother and father, who gave me an opportunity and spoke to me about always giving back, and my wife, my kids, my friends, my community and city and country and the very institutions that I’ve always respected — especially this one.”

Fontana’s defence lawyer, Gord Cudmore, had called for a fine, probation and community service or at the highest end a conditional sentence.

“He would not fare well in real jail,” he said.

Cudmore said later his client would not appeal the sentence.

The judge said earlier Tuesday that, normally, a $1,700 fraud by a 64-year-old businessman would not make it to trial, but what makes this case more serious is the breach of trust, committed by Fontana as a member of Parliament.

When Fontana was a Liberal member of Parliament, he forged a contract from his son’s wedding to make it look as though it was for a political event at the same venue, the judge previously found.

The political event didn’t end up going ahead at the Marconi Club, but Fontana testified he believed the club was owed a $1,700 deposit from his MP budget, despite the club not asking for any money.

Since he had only spoken with the club’s president — a friend of more than 40 years — over the phone and didn’t have any paperwork, Fontana changed several details on the wedding contract from a few months prior and submitted it, he testified.

The club received the Government of Canada cheque and credited it to Fontana’s son’s wedding.

The judge said he believed the cheque was mistakenly sent to the venue. Fontana intended for it to go directly to him, Thomas found, and if the money had indeed gone to Fontana, no one would have been the wiser.

Thomas said the reasons why Fontana committed the fraud “confound” him.

“Perhaps it was simply because he could,” he said.

Fontana has said he will not return to public life.

His political career spanned more than 30 years, first as a municipal politician, then as a Liberal member of Parliament, ultimately returning to London as mayor.

Cudmore had urged the judge to consider Fontana’s long career of public service and his good works. He submitted 45 character reference letters. Fontana has already spent the past two years being pilloried “in the Internet stocks,” Cudmore said.

“He has been ridiculed, humiliated and denounced,” he said.

“In the last two years he has been defined by this charge, but I submit to you the definition of Joe Fontana is contained in that booklet (of letters) you have.”

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