Joe Fontana: 'I'm innocent'

Joe Fontana. (QMI AGENCY FILE PHOTO)

Joe Fontana. (QMI AGENCY FILE PHOTO)

Chip Martin, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:53 PM ET

LONDON, ONT. - Embattled London Mayor Joe Fontana is staying in office despite facing criminal charges stemming from his time as a Liberal cabinet minister.

"I'm innocent," Fontana insisted Thursday during a packed news conference at his lawyer's office.

Fontana was charged a day earlier with three criminal offences relating to federal funds used to pay for his son's wedding reception in 2005, when he was a Liberal MP and cabinet minister.

He resigned his seat on the city's police services board, but said he plans to remain as mayor.

He also took a beating Thursday in the House of Commons.

The Tories were quick to tie the charges with the sponsorship scandal that brought down the federal Liberals.

"Sadly, this is not the first time the Liberals have stolen money from Canadian taxpayers," said London-North-Centre MP Susan Truppe, who represents Fontana's old riding.

A 30-year politician, Fontana was the minister of labour and housing at the time of the wedding reception.

RCMP have charged him with breach of trust as a public officer, fraud under $5,000 and uttering forged documents. The charges are connected to a $1,700 cheque from Public Works Canada used to pay a deposit for a room at a social club in London.

Fontana — who quit federal politics to make a failed stab for mayor in 2006, only to win the office four years later — said he has a mandate from Londoners and is maintaining a busy schedule in the face of the controversy.

QMI Agency broke the story Oct. 19 that questions were being asked about two federal cheques, totalling more than $20,000, used to pay bills at the Marconi Club. An all-party board that oversees MPs' spending on Parliament Hill had called in the RCMP.

Fontana's lawyer, Gord Cudmore said Thursday the Fontana family paid for the June 5, 2005 wedding reception for Fontana's son, Michael, held at the club.

Cudmore said "there is a very, very valid defence to these allegations," and Fontana would plead not guilty in the case he predicted could be before the courts for a year.

Asked why mayors in Montreal and Laval, Que., resigned while they were being investigated, but he would not, Fontana replied: "That's not my choice . . . my choice is to stay and do the job and work with my colleagues, work with the community."

-- With files from Alex Weber

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