Complaint Review: Ed Fontes
- Ed Fontes
Cresco City Hall
- Category: City Officials
Ed Fontes, Cesco Iowa Mayor ripoff Lied about military service record Cresco Iowa
*General Comment: why is this still scrutinized?
From the Waterloo, Iowa newspaper (2 Articles)20 Jun 03To tell the truth: Cresco mayor's background comes under scrutinyBy LISA SCHMITZ, Courier Staff WriterCRESCO - Ed Fontes is a difficult man to pin down. Elected in 2001, theCresco mayor boasts impressive accomplishments. But frequently thosefeats seem to elude independent confirmation.As a result, some in the Howard County community have begun to questionhis military record, job titles and alleged political positions.
Fontes claims a lengthy career in the U.S. Army, primarily serving inoverseas military intelligence. He said his military career began in1957 and spanned several decades. He claims to have reached the rank ofcolonel by age 30.According to official military records on file at the Howard CountyRecorder's Office, Fontes' period of enlistment is dated from February1957 to February 1959. Fontes submitted the information for property taxexemption purposes.
In addition to active duty, Fontes spent three years, three months and10 days in the reserves. Despite his claims, Fontes is listed as having"no foreign and/or sea service."Records also state Fontes achieved a rank of Sergeant E5 (P), received aGood Conduct Medal and an expert ranking in carbine. Listed as a lightweapons infantryman, there is no indication of colonel status.In a June 5 interview with the Courier, Fontes said there's a perfectlylogical explanation for the apparent discrepancies in his militaryrecord."Because I was involved in military intelligence, my records areclassified," Fontes said. "People cannot check to see that I am tellingthe truth."People just have to trust the honor code of military men," he said.
The claim is problematic, however, because the mayor has routinelydiscussed details of the alleged military intelligence activities."I have served under five presidents, and had the honor of carrying thered phone (hotline) for President Johnson, working directly with GeneralWestmoreland (commanding general in Vietnam) and participating inVietnam's only parachute drop," Fontes said."I know you cannot confirm anything ... I feel bad that it frustratespeople," Fontes said. "My intelligence missions, it's like they neverhappened."All I can say is that on the morning of February 20, 1959, I wasreleased from active duty, and that same afternoon I was commissioned asan officer," he said. "The rest is classified."Waterloo resident Evan "Curly" Hultman, a retired reserve major generalin the U.S. Army, said Fontes' openness is uncharacteristic of someonetrained to keep secrets."I don't understand why a high-ranking intelligence officer, who claims to be a colonel of all things, would reveal information from missions.That's against military code," Hultman said.
As for his ranking, Fontes claims to have been surprised at the promotion."I was very young -- only 30, I think -- when I was made a colonel,"Fontes said. "It was under the strict orders of President Johnson, whobelieved I needed the title's authority to complete intelligencemissions at the highest level."Because the ranking was given to me after I had entered intointelligence, it never will be on my records."Fontes, a native of El Paso, Texas, said he was chosen for high-levelintelligence work because of his apparent cultural ambiguity."My whole life, I've been mistaken for Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese ...People can't place me," said Fontes, who is Hispanic. "This makes me agood candidate to blend in."Hultman finds this claim more credible, and said intelligence officerswere frequently chosen for training based on physical attributes.
Fontes also said he completed a selective program in California as ayoung Army man that was intended to train a select group for specializedintelligence work in specific areas of the world. Of the 1,000 who beganthe program, Fontes estimated only 250 graduated."This program, in which I studied mainly Vietnam and China and some ofRussia, was very important to my intelligence career," Fontes said.EmploymentFontes' employment history has also been called into question.Born in Texas, Fontes grew up in California, where he would later workat the Aerospace Corporation.Fontes said he worked at the Los Angeles corporation for about 20 yearsas a member of a military "think-tank."Aerospace is a private, nonprofit corporation created in 1960 underCalifornia law to provide research, development and advisory services inthe sciences. The corporation does work for the U.S. Department ofDefense and Space and Missile System Center of Air Force Space Command.
According to the Aerospace's human resources department, Fontes wasemployed as an art service production coordinator from March 1970 toJanuary 1994.Explaining the discrepancy, Fontes once again reiterated his classifiedstatus."My work at Aerospace was very sensitive, very crucial for our country'ssafety. That's why my real job title is not recorded," Fontes said.Some of the information about Fontes surfaced Wednesday in Cresco'sTimes Plain Dealer.
In an article written by news editor Ken Becker,sources cited weakened some of Fontes' claims.Among them was retired Air Force Lt. Laurence Johnson of Maine, who saidhe and his wife knew Fontes, and worked with him at Aerospace.Becker said he did not solicit Johnson as a source but was contacted byJohnson, who confirmed that sequence of events.In a telephone interview with the Courier on Thursday, Johnson said heand his wife continued to receive correspondence from Fontes even aftermoving to the East Coast in 1994."After Ed left Aerospace and moved to Iowa, he often sent us newspaperclippings that were personal profiles," Johnson said. "He was very proudof becoming mayor."However, Johnson was alarmed by some of the content in the articles."Ed was simply making outlandish claims," Johnson said. "When he workedwith my wife at Aerospace --- they were in the same area --- Ed wasnothing more than a low-paid runner for the art department. There was no'think-tank' involved."As a military man myself, I also had a very hard time believing Ed'srecord --- it seems wildly exaggerated. I felt it was necessary that Icontact the publication to make my opinion known," he said.Fontes, however, remembers events differently. He said he never spoke atany length with Johnson and had only met him briefly at a cocktailparty."I was very surprised to see a quote from him in the paper," Fontessaid. "I had to think hard to remember who he was."Political tiesFontes maintains he was an active member of California politics from1970 through the early 1990s."I served on the central committee of the Los Angeles County'sDemocratic Party for several years, and I also was chairman of the partyfor two, two-year terms," Fontes said.
This week, following publication of the Cresco newspaper's article,Fontes hedged on his previously stated involvement."No, I was never chairman, just state vice chair of the CaliforniaDemocratic Party," Fontes said.The claim doesn't seem to add up, however, with what others are saying.Gloria Alves, a current representative of the Los Angeles CountyDemocratic Party, was unable to verify Fontes' claims. Alves said he waslisted in county records as a Democratic Party member only.Fontes blamed poor record-keeping and frequent office turnover for thelack of documentation concerning his political record.
Alves conceded records are often less than accurate."We do not have the best system here," Alves said. "We are starting new,but records from past years are not always easy to obtain."Fontes provides as proof of his political involvement what appears to aCalifornia campaign poster presented much like a resume.The political resume was put together by a former secretary, accordingto Fontes. No year is indicated, but the document lists Fontes'community experience and awards in California.Among those was a January 14, 1975, honor bestowed by late CaliforniaCongressman Glenn M. Anderson for outstanding public service. The awardceremony is confirmed in congressional records for the same date.Fontes stressed the validity of his community involvement record inCalifornia."I was so busy there, always helping with beautification projects andpolitical groups," Fontes said. "Everyone knew me."Johnson, though, said he knew Fontes was an active community member inCalifornia, but could not confirm to what degree."I know Ed was involved with the Democratic Party out there, and he mayhave held some volunteer offices, but I don't remember him being in anyprominent positions," Johnson said.
Community reaction Fontes moved to Northeast Iowa from California in 1999 with his wife,Sue, who is a Cresco native.The couple have been married 10 years, and Sue Fontes continues tosupport her husband."Ed has never told me much about his past --- he doesn't like to talkabout it --- and I don't question him," she said. "Ed is a good man, andI believe in him."If there were more people like Ed is this world, it would be a muchbetter place."The mayor said he began receiving calls at 6 a.m. the day the TimesPlain Dealer article appeared."People are concerned and worried about me," Fontes said.He called a city staff meeting Wednesday to explain his side of thestory."I won't lie --- people were upset," Fontes said. "But after hearing mymilitary intelligence background and understanding why I can't explainmore, I think they felt better."I got three hugs and lots of positive comments afterwards," he said.Waste water plant superintendent Loel Lienhard, 51, was at the meeting,and said all in attendance were supportive of Fontes."The reaction was pretty good. There was basically no rebuttal," saidLienhard, who worked with Fontes on a summer city crew. "The majorityopinion seems to be that Ed got a raw deal."City Council members were not present at the meeting, Fontes said,because 24-hour notice must be given for the council to meet. Heindicated there are no immediate plans to call such a meeting.Council member John Loveless said he saw no reason for future discussionon the topic."Everyone likes Ed here," Loveless said. "He's been good for our town."Council member Bob Barthelme, though, expressed concern about Fontes'past."I've been getting a lot of phone calls. People want me to tell themwhat's going on," Barthelme said. "Honestly, I just don't know thetruth. Ed owes the taxpayers an explanation."Fontes, who, in addition to his mayoral duties, also drives a school busfor the Howard-Winneshiek School District, said he will not be atMonday's City Council meeting. He will be in Des Moines for bus driverin-service training.Fontes said he plans to address council member concerns at a futuremeeting if they feel it is necessary."I have faith this will pass," Fontes said. "The people of Crescobelieve in me, and I believe in them."~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~2
5 JUN 03Some on council want more information about Cresco mayor's backgroundBy LISA SCHMITZ, Courier Staff WriterCRESCO --- Nearly a week after Mayor Ed Fontes' background waschallenged in print, at least some Cresco City Council members are stillwaiting for an explanation from their leader."Ed hasn't bothered to talk to us yet, and I think we are allconcerned," Councilman Duane Omar said. "We feel it is his initiative tospeak with us."This isn't a witch-hunt --- we just need answers."Fontes, who moved to Cresco from California in 1999, routinely cites animpressive list of past accomplishments.
His resume includes claims ofhigh-level military intelligence work, a classified job with theAerospace Corporation and prominent positions within the Los AngelesCounty Democratic Party.At the minimum, however, many of these claims appear to fall short.Fontes, who was elected mayor in 2001, says his classified militarycareer spanned 20 years after he was discharged from active duty in1959.Fontes, though, hasn't produced any evidence of such intelligenceinvolvement and claims the information is classified."I know you cannot confirm anything ... I feel bad that it frustratespeople,"
Fontes said in a June 5 interview with the Courier. "Myintelligence missions, it's like they never happened."Fontes, however, voluntarily filed his military record --- known as theDD 214 form --- at the Howard County Courthouse on Jan. 6. The record isnecessary for Fontes, like other military veterans, to receive propertytax exemptions.To be eligible for such an exemption, the Code of Iowa requires that aproperty owner be a resident of the state, have been involved infull-time active duty during a war and have been honorably discharged.
Fontes, whose active military duty dates from February 1957 to February1959, does not qualify for tax-exempt status.Had it been approved, the exemption would have been worth about $1,800."The closest date of eligibility for (Fontes) would be during theVietnam conflict," said Bennie Spain, executive director of the BlackHawk County Commission of Veteran's Affairs. "That conflict's window ofeligibility begins February 28, 1961, and ends May 7, 1965."Fontes reserve status does overlap those dates. But that doesn't count."The key word here is 'active,'" Spain said. "You had to be activemilitary personnel --- albeit anywhere in the world --- during a periodof war or conflict to qualify for an exemption."Spain, though, said military personnel who have been injured whileserving are often granted the exemption."However, such action would be noted on a military member's DD 214record," Spain said.Fontes, who claims to have suffered a head injury in an explosion inVietnam, has no such notation on his record.
In a Howard County Assessor's Office document dated Jan. 8, Fontes'application for military exemption was recommended for approval.On Tuesday, however, County Assessor Tom Mullen said his office didcatch the error."We discovered the problem with Mr. Fontes' application several weeksback, and it was placed in our 'recommendation for disallowance' file,"Mullen said. "We have a system of checks and balances within our officeto catch things like this."Mullen said the key is Fontes has never received any property taxexemptions, so there's nothing to correct at this point."This kind of thing happens from time to time, and it is very possiblethat Mr. Fontes was not aware of the dates," Mullen said.Fontes did not return multiple calls from the Courier this week.
Although there is an apparent difference of opinion among City Councilmembers, some hope Fontes can offer more explanation about hisbackground."We really need him to talk to us," Councilman Bob Barthelme said. "Itis important to hear from him directly."Omar also said he needs to know more."I think Ed thinks this will blow over, but before it goes away, I wantsome answers," he said. "If he doesn't contact us in the next day ortwo, I'm going to try and schedule an appointment with him myself."It's crucial to have trust between a mayor and city council, and rightnow that trust has been compromised between us and Ed."Councilman John Loveless, however, said a discussion with Fontes is"completely unnecessary.""To me, it seems kind of like the reports about Ed are leaning towardssensationalism," Loveless said. "I don't see why we should waste ourtime on this. I don't see any kind of council discussion on this matterhappening in the future."Fontes said last week he has no plans to discuss his past with councilmembers unless they feel it is necessary.
Council Bluffs, Iowa
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