March 28, 2014

USA: Charlotte, North Carolina Democrat Mayor Patrick Cannon Arrested And Charged This Week On Public Corruption Charges. He Resigned Same Night. NEXT!

Charlotte Observer
written by Mark Washburn, Michael Gordon and Jim Morrill
Thursday March 27, 2014

Patrick Cannon, who rose from public housing to become mayor of North Carolina’s largest city, was arrested Wednesday by the FBI and accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes – including $20,000 in cash delivered in a briefcase last month to the mayor’s office.

Cannon, a 49-year-old Democrat who took office only four months ago, was scheduled to show up at a luxury apartment in SouthPark for yet another payoff from what he thought were businessmen needing his influence in city matters, the affidavit says.

But after arriving, Cannon learned who they really were, a source confirmed: undercover FBI agents who’d been recording their meetings over the past three years, long before he launched a campaign for mayor in 2013.

Cannon resigned as mayor Wednesday night, capping an extraordinary day that included allegations of an illicit trip to Las Vegas and payoff negotiations at the Capital Grille – the same uptown steakhouse that figured in the region’s last major political scandal. It was there that former N.C. House Speaker Jim Black of Matthews, also a Democrat, took bribes from a group of chiropractors seeking help with legislation.

Cannon was charged with theft and bribery, accused of taking cash payoffs at least five times. He was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler, required to surrender his passport and released on $25,000 unsecured bond pending an indictment that could come as early as next week. Prominent Charlotte attorney James Ferguson has been hired to represent him.

Historian Jack Claiborne, who has researched Charlotte’s mayors, said such corruption charges are unprecedented in the city’s history.

FBI agents with search warrants swept into the mayor’s office Wednesday, his home on Cumnor Lane in Ballantyne and his offices at E-Z Parking Inc. at 312 W. Trade St. They seized financial records, phones, computers and other electronic devices. They were also searching for a leather briefcase that agents say they stuffed with cash for the February visit to the mayor’s office.

If convicted on all charges, Cannon faces up to 50 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

Long rise to power

Cannon was born in Charlotte and often referred to overcoming hardship. He was 5 when his father was found shot to death outside a vacant westside school. He was raised by his mother, who worked on a truck assembly line in south Charlotte. They lived in public housing.

Through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, he met future mayor and governor Pat McCrory, whose brother, Phil McCrory, was mentoring Cannon in the program. Pat McCrory helped teach Cannon to swim at age 13.

Cannon and McCrory talked for about an hour Wednesday, right before Cannon went to his appointment with the agents. They talked about the ongoing airport commission saga, said McCrory, a Republican who helped Cannon’s star rise in Charlotte politics. Cannon was the longest-serving elected official in Charlotte, having joined the City Council in 1993. (He was out of office from 2005 to 2009.)

“He was very close to me and my family,” McCrory said in Raleigh. “I’m just extremely disappointed and angry.”

Focus turns to Cannon

According to U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins, a federal corruption investigation began in 2010 aimed at other Charlotte targets, but Cannon, then a City Council member and mayor pro tem, became a primary subject of the probe in 2011.

FBI agents began an “American Hustle”-type operation against Cannon, beginning with a meeting with an undercover agent passing himself off as business manager for a venture capital company based in Chicago.

According to a detailed affidavit written by FBI Special Agent Eric Davis:

The agent met Cannon in November 2010, saying he and his investors wanted to open a nightclub in Charlotte.

Ultimately, the agent chose a property in uptown that had parking problems and required zoning changes. In subsequent meetings, Cannon described his relationship and influence over certain city departments and employees, including the zoning board, according to the affidavit.

On Dec. 12, 2012, Cannon met an undercover agent at Capital Grille on North Tryon Street. Cannon asked the agent if he’d be interested in investing in a business Cannon planned to start called HERS, which would sell a feminine hygiene product nationally, the affidavit says. There was no evidence in the affidavit whether HERS exists.

The agent agreed to give Cannon a $12,500 “zero-percent return on investment” loan in return for his assistance in getting approval for the zoning needed for the nightclub.

But, the agent claims, Cannon said he needed $40,000. “I can do something for around $12,500. Any ideas how I can close the gap and get me some of that capital to get me started to pull this thing in?”

No comments: