Cannon Reaches Deal With Feds
Update: 5:45 p.m.
The following is a transcript of Lisa's Miller's two-way with Mark Rumsey on developments in the Patrick Cannon corruption case:
Mark Rumsey: Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon has agreed to plead guilty to one public corruption charge. He’s scheduled to appear in court tomorrow morning. The Department of Justice says Cannon accepted at least $50,000 in bribes in exchange for political help with real estate deals. WFAE's Lisa Miller joins me now to discuss how much prison time the former mayor is facing, and new documents that shed more light on the investigation.
Lisa, how long will Cannon spend in prison under the terms of this plea agreement?
LM: The Department of Justice suggests he serve between 5 and 6 years based on sentencing guidelines. The maximum sentence is twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Now, when these cases go to trial the sentence is often much less severe. That could have knocked a couple years off his sentence if this case had gone to trial. Now, a judge doesn’t have to abide by this. A judge could increase or reduce that sentence.
But that’s not likely to happen. However, it’s unlikely a judge would increase the sentence.
MR: So what are prosecutors getting in exchange for suggesting a lighter sentence for Cannon?
LM: Well, Cannon has agreed to talk and basically name names. The plea agreement says he has to turn over all information he may have relating to this public corruption investigation. If necessary, he may have to testify in court against other defendants.
MR: It sounds like prosecutors must think Cannon has some valuable information?
LM: It certainly appears that way. He’s likely already passed on a lot of that information to even get a plea offer. The other thing about Cannon’s plea agreement is that it makes you start wondering about the other cases prosecutors are building in this investigation. Here’s Sam Buell’s thoughts on that. He’s a former federal prosecutor, now teaching at Duke Law School:
SB: You have to weigh, ‘Gee, should we give the mayor, who was the top guy in the city and took bribes, a cooperation agreement here? Well, only if we think we can make some really important corruption cases that otherwise wouldn’t get made.’ That tends to make me think that he would have some fairly significant information."
MR: So do we have any idea about what information Cannon is spilling?
LM: Well, we have one new name. It’s in the Bill of Information released today. That document lays out the charges to which Cannon has agreed to plead guilty. It says Cannon accepted several bribes from a businessman dating back to 2009. He was elected back to council that year. In exchange, Cannon agreed to influence city zoning, planning and transportation officials.
MR: Do we have any idea who that is?
LM: Well, the document doesn’t name the businessman, but a man named David Baucom fits the description. He goes by the name Slim. He owns a bunch of strip clubs in the Southeast and at least six in Charlotte. A seventh club named Twin Peeks was on North Tryon and right on the path of the Blue Line Extension up to the University area. The document says one of the bribes included a payment of $2,000 in cash in January of last year to persuade city and county officials to recommend allowing the club to rebuild further back on the same lot. The club was demolished last summer and has not been rebuilt. The document also says Cannon solicited the support of the Councilman where the club was located. Again, there’s no name attached, but Twin Peeks was in Michael Barnes’s district. He’s now Mayor Pro-Tem.
MR: Is there any evidence that Cannon was actually able to influence city officials?
LM: Not in a way that shows any city official, including Barnes, did something criminal. The Bill of Information includes a transcript of a voicemail Cannon left for a city employee. The call was on behalf of someone who wanted to open a nightclub in Charlotte. Of course, that person turned out to be an undercover FBI agent. Anyway, Cannon is pretty familiar with this city employee. The message starts off….This is your brother in Greekdom Patrick Cannon. And goes on to ask the employee to call the businessman interested in opening a nightclub. A few days later the document says the city employee gets in touch with the businessman and they discuss getting zoning waivers for the potential nightclub property.
MR: Is there anything else new we learn about the investigation?
LM: Well, we learn that nightclub property under discussion was the firehouse property on Fifth and Graham.
Update: 4 p.m.
Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon will serve 5-6 years in prison, based on information contained in a plea agreement he reached with federal prosecutors. Cannon is scheduled to enter his plea Tuesday at 10:45 a.m. U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins and FBI Special Agent John Strong will discuss the case in a press conference at 1 p.m.
The plea agreement says that Cannon has to turn over all information he may have related to the investigation. Duke University law school professor Sam Buell, a former federal prosecutor, says it appears that Cannon is providing a lot of information that interests prosecutors.
"You have to weigh, 'Gee, should we give the mayor,' who was the top guy in the city and took bribes, a cooperation agreement here? Well, only if we think we can make some really important correction cases that otherwise wouldn't get made," Buell told WFAE's Lisa Miller.
Editor's Note: This story is developing. Check back for updates.
A new document from the U.S. attorney’s office indicates former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon is expected to plead guilty to a corruption charge.
The U.S. attorney’s office released what’s called a Bill of Information, charging Cannon with one count of wire fraud. It basically lays out the charges which a defendant is expected to plead guilty to. That charge comes with a max sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The document drops two other charges for bribery or theft and fraud.
Legal experts say it’s pretty common to see some charges dropped from the original complaint. That’s part of the negotiating. In this case, those other charges would probably make no difference to the ultimate sentence.
In March, Cannon was accused of accepting about $48,000 in money and gifts from undercover officers over a four-year period in exchange for using his political influence. In the new document, that amount’s gone up to $50,000.
The additional $2,000 is money the Bill of Information says that Cannon accepted from the owner of a strip club in January 2013. The Blue Line Extension was going to run through the property, so the owner needed to relocate, which would require zoning changes. Cannons’ charged with accepting the cash in exchange for help with that.
It’s a small amount compared to the total, but it also shows a pattern of trading political influence for cash, outside anything the FBI may have convinced him to do.