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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Charges, courts and claims

Although there were no committee meetings this week for which to prepare or to attend, the mayor gave his court date a miss.

Not that he would have had any surprises there. The charges hadn't changed. It was still breach of trust, fraud under $5,000 and forgery pertaining to how the bills for his son's wedding reception at the Marconi Club nearly eight years ago were paid. And the question was still by whom? And when? Was it the Fontana family as claimed by the mayor's lawyer, Gord Cudmore? Then what about the pictures in the London Free Press of the invoices and cheques that indicated that Public Works Canada had covered at least $1,700 of the total? And what about the statements from the club manager at that time verifying the authenticity of the of the documents?

Nor had his plea changed. He is still pleading not guilty and has, in fact, pronounced himself to be innocent of the charges. What exactly that means, we aren't sure.

The wheels of justice grind slowly. This was the third court date at which nothing happened. It seems that the defence needed additional time to have some discussions with the Crown. Hence the delays since the charges were first read in court at the beginning of January. This time the delay was even longer. October 28th and 29th have been set aside for a preliminary hearing, normally held at the request of the defendant, at which the crown will disclose its evidence. That will be 53 weeks after the RCMP initially laid the charges.

But no doubt the mayor will have other legal matters to occupy his attention. First up, on April 18th, is his appeal to the federal court to quash Canada Revenue Agency's intention to remove charitable status from Trinity Global Support Foundation which last year issued $153M in tax receipts. Until very recently, Fontana was chairman of the board of that organization and recruited family, friends and acquaintances to join him, including one of his sons as president of the charity, and a developer who is hoping to acquire some city land for a mega project. Now, Fontana continues as an ordinary board member. Some of those who were named as the beneficiaries of his private foundation have professed themselves to be shocked at the evaluations of the assistance given them in the form of licenses for some computer tutorials. $4,500 for a single licence to access tutorials and software which are often freely available seemed a little steep. Multiply that by 200—the number of licences donated—and you have a donation of $900,000 on which no tax is paid.

In May, the mayor will be before the courts again, this time in civil court where he is being sued by a former employee/partner who claims that GPEC, a “Christian” energy-from-waste company of which Fontana was chairman of the management team, sent him off to Romania to recruit municipal clients. The technology turned out to be faulty, the money that investors had provided to GPEC disappeared, contracts were not honoured, and the employee left high and dry without a pay cheque and out of pocket for expenses incurred.

And then, there is the tail end of a story that appeared in the Globe and Mail on Monday. It's a complicated story but the upshot is that the former head of the Palestinian Authority's public investment fund, Muhammud Rashid, was convicted last June of defrauding the authority of $34M. He didn't stick around for the court case; he high-tailed it out of the country and is believed to be living in London England.

But not before he managed to obtain Canadian citizenship and get involved in some business dealings right here in London Ontario. Although he was not living in Canada as required, somehow Rashid, also known as Khaled Salam, managed to get a Canadian passport in 2003. At the time Joe Fontana, MP for London North Centre, was chairman of the House of Commons citizenship and immigration committee.

A few years earlier, in 1999, the Palestinian Authority had invested in Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., a pharmaceutical company at that time located in London Ontario. The president of that company was approached by MP Joe Fontana who told him that the Canadian Government was helping Palestine look for investments. Fontana wanted to bring some potential investors to London and for a while, Rashid was on the board of directors of Bioniche. Later, the Palestine investments were bought out by  Bioniche as part of its effort to attract American financing.

Now, Palestine would like some help from Canada to to find the missing money and to bring Rashid home. It is particularly interested in learning about Rashid's business dealings in Canada. And how did he get a Canadian passport on which, it appears, he is currently travelling?

Attempts by the Globe and Mail to have those questions addressed by London's mayor received no response. There won't be any court date to deal with that.


Thanks to a savvy reader, I just received this update. Apparently Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is having his department look into the citizenship thing. Thanks, John!


Vicki Van Linden said...

Thanks for keeping on top of these things, Gina.

My concern about the mayor's questionable past is that his present also seems questionable. His championing of the Fincore proposal for SOHO on the old Victoria Hospital lands is very concerning.

Why is the mayor so determined to see that a deal with one particular developer is pushed through as fast a possible? Would not the more appropriate approach be for the planning department to review a variety of proposals and include the community in such a major development?

Just askin' said...

For such a talkative fellow, the Mayor seems awfully quiet about all of these fascinating stories.

Cat got your tongue, Arva Joe?

R. Cain said...

Given the above, it must be somewhat demoralizing to work for the City of London at the present time.
One can hope that a culture of crookedness does not percolate through the ranks of City operations, as a variation of the 'broken window effect'.
London could use a credible, squeaky-clean cheerleader.
Any nominations?
Or, how about a mascot?

Anonymous said...

What new odor will be revealed as another layer of the onion is peeled away? It is all more than enough to make one cry.

Anonymous said...

As a CoL employee, it's not demoralizing at all. We recognize our esteemed council for being the collective gong show that they are - and quite little of that which is breathlessly (and often salaciously) reported makes ANY difference to our day-to-day jobs of serving the residents of London.

Anonymous said...

The really,really sad part of all of this is that the Mayor seems to be getting away with all of the questionable going's on while he is office. If it were the average Joe Blow in this city they would be charged and jailed by now, but then there is the saying "Money talks, Bullshit Walks" and it applies to Joe Fontana.

Anonymous said...

Slippery the Seal might be an appropriate mascot for London, but likely copyrighted so maybe Slippery the Eel.
Joe could probably do a Harry Houdini and get out of a straight jacket faster than anyone on the planet. He seems able to wriggle out of any situation.