Joe Fontana, former MP convicted of fraud, hired as consultant by London, Ont., developer

LONDON, Ont. — A former MP convicted of fraud is one of two men with criminal pasts steering one of the largest redevelopments in the history of this southwestern Ontario city.

Former mayor and MP , 65, has emerged as the consultant for BayShore Groups, a St. Catharines-based company that bought the former Kellogg plant and plans to convert the massive site — more than 30 buildings spread over nine hectares — into a multi-use facility.

Fontana has kept a low profile since he was convicted 14 months ago of defrauding taxpayers of $1,700 while he was a member of parliament.

In his first public role since he was forced to resign as mayor, Fontana is working for BayShore president Robert Megna. Megna served time in 2003 after he pleaded guilty to extortion in a case that involved a member of the Hells Angels and a hairdresser.

“This is not about individuals, it is about the opportunity,” Fontana said Tuesday on a tour of the factory that was a London landmark before it closed last December. “I know my way around the city. (BayShore) have asked me for strategic advice. It is a great opportunity for the city.”

Wearing a white hard hat as he made his way through the sprawling plant that used to make 27 brands of breakfast cereals, Fontana said he wants to move on from his public humiliation last year that included four months of house arrest.

“I made a mistake, I regret that it happened and I paid for it dearly, and so did my family,” he said. “It was a tough year for me . . . but I have more to offer.” Megna couldn’t be reached for comment.

When asked about Megna’s conviction, Fontana said he “did not know about that.”

Though some in London’s business community question Fontana’s role in redeveloping one of London’s largest vacant industrial sites, few were willing to speak publicly.

But Andrew Sancton, a political scientist at Western University and close follower of city politics, questions why an industry would hire a disgraced former politician as a spokesman.

“Fontana has a right to make a living, he has served his punishment. I don’t have a problem with him making his services available,” he said.

“But it is strange the owner would hire him. You’d think they would know it would raise these type of questions. There are a lot of people who know about commercial real estate. It is a strange business decision.”

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City councillor Jesse Helmer, who represents the east London ward where the former factory is located, said he believes constituents don’t care who’s involved in the redevelopment plan, as long as planning proposals are sound.

“This is very exciting for the area. I see a lot of benefits . . . . We have a planning process in place we have to adhere to and we will deal with the proposal on (its) merit and not focus on who is proposing it.”

Mayor Matt Brown declined comment Tuesday on the project.

Fontana said he brings experience, passion and commitment to the community to the Kellogg project.

“I’m just giving strategic advice on a project I know and have been passionate about,” he said. “I’m semi-retired, but I’m a supporter of London. For the past 40 years I have been involved, I can’t change who I am. I have a lot of life left in me.”

But running again for office isn’t in the cards, he said.

The London Free Press

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