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Former Mayor Patrick Cannon Could Be Sentenced As Soon As Next Week

Tasnim Shamma

Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon could be sentenced on a public corruption charge as early as next week, according to new documents in his case.

Federal probation officials filed their final presentencing report Tuesday afternoon. That document remains sealed, but its title reveals that U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney will sentence the longtime Democratic officeholder “on or after” next Wednesday.

Cannon has confessed to accepting more than $50,000 in bribes from FBI undercover agents. An affidavit in the case also says Cannon solicited $1.2 million in additional kickbacks during a meeting in the mayor’s office.

He was arrested in late March, resigned from office the same day, and pleaded guilty in federal court on June 3. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Under sentencing guidelines, the 47-year-old husband and father faces 63 to 78 months in prison.

Whitney, the chief judge in the federal Western District of North Carolina, can adjust that sentence. The judge will also consider the recommendation included in the presentencing report as well as motions from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Cannon’s defense team.

The corruption investigation that led to Cannon’s arrest remains open, but no one else has yet been charged.

As part of his June plea to one count of honest services wire fraud, Cannon agreed to help the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI with their probe. His level of cooperation could lead prosecutors to ask Whitney to raise or lower the sentence.

James Ferguson, Cannon’s lead attorney, did not return phone calls and emails Tuesday. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins declined comment.

Cannon, who started his political career in 1993 as the youngest candidate ever elected to the Charlotte City Council, stands to become the city’s first mayor sent to prison.

Defense attorneys Ferguson and Henderson Hill filed an objection to a draft report by probation officials earlier this month, ostensibly to improve Cannon’s odds of a lesser sentence.

James Wyatt, a prominent Charlotte defense attorney who has represented federal defendants in the past, said Ferguson and Hill could be challenging the report on any number of fronts – in particular, the scope of Cannon’s crime.

If the report limits the amount of bribes to the $50,000 that Cannon actually accepted, probation officials might recommend one sentence. If the report includes the $1.2 million the FBI says Cannon solicited in February, Whitney could receive a far larger recommended punishment to consider. Defense lawyers, Wyatt said, would argue to exclude the higher amount.

Other considerations almost certainly will factor in, from Cannon’s breach of public trust to his public contributions to the city and from his level of help to the government to his personal background.

Federal rules also require probation officials to consider information that assesses “any social, psychological and medical impact on any victim.”

In the end, Whitney has wide authority to choose Cannon’s punishment.

“At the end of the day, the length of sentence is a judicial decision,” Wyatt said. “I think Judge Whitney tries to make a measured and very careful determination on what punishment is appropriate.”