Former Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon pleaded guilty Tuesday to public corruption charges. He admitted he accepted money in return for political influence, and then asked for forgiveness.
A man wearing an orange jumpsuit and chains shuffled out of the courtroom flanked by guards, and Patrick Cannon walked in wearing a charcoal suit, flanked by his lawyers. He swore an oath, and U.S. Magistrate Judge David Cayer asked him if he understood the plea he’d agreed to with federal prosecutors. He did.
“Are you, in fact, guilty?” Cayer asked.
“Yes sir, your Honor. I am,” Cannon replied.
A few minutes later, he walked out front of the courtroom and read his first public comments since the arrest:
"Today I have acknowledged being guilty of accepting moneys for constituents services. Something that should never have been done while serving in elected office. I have asked of my family and my friends, and I ask also of you the public, your forgiveness."
Cannon has admitted to taking at least $50,000 in cash from 2009 until his March arrest, in exchange for political favors. The bulk of the public case has rested on a four-year FBI sting operation during which Cannon was mayor or a city councilman.
Cannon accepted $20,000 in cash in the mayor’s office from an undercover agent and flew to Las Vegas to promise investors political influence. But the technical charge Cannon pleaded guilty to is a type of wire fraud — setting up the deals with interstate calls. That’s also what gives the feds jurisdiction.
"Each time Mr. Cannon accepted money or some other thing of value, he deprived the citizens of Charlotte of his honest services," U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said in a press conference after the plea.
The plea agreement calls for the former mayor to serve 5-6 years, far less than the 20 year maximum. A judge will determine the actual length at a sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled. In return, Cannon agrees to assist the FBI and attorneys in the investigation, which is continuing, Tompkins confirmed.
"Our duty as prosecutors is to follow the facts wherever they lead. This process will not be easy and will not be fast, but at the end of the day Charlotte will be better for it."
No other charges have been filed, and only one other person implicated. The charges mention a strip club owner who allegedly paid Cannon to help navigate zoning issues. In the courtroom a prosecutor asked that Cannon remain free on bond until his sentencing. That way, the attorney said, Cannon would be easier to reach as the investigation continues.
Update 2:04 p.m.
Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon pleaded guilty to corruption Tuesday morning in federal court. When U.S. magistrate judge David Cayer asked him: "Are you in fact guilty?" Cannon responded: "Yes sir, your honor, I am."
On Tuesday morning, former mayor Patrick Cannon came out of a black SUV with two attorneys -- James Ferguson and Henderson Hill. He was surrounded by media and didn't answer any questions. He actually tripped and fell on his way inside.
Inside, the hearing took about fifteen minutes. Department of Justice officials say Cannon accepted at least $50,000 in bribes in exchange for political help with real estate deals. Prosecutors stressed that Cannon and his lawyers have been very cooperative – so they said they were find with him remaining free on bond.
Outside, former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon delivered the following statement and even referenced the Bible:
"It has been said that to whom much has been given much is required. For nearly half of my life, I have had the honor of serving the people of Charlotte. Much has been given to me in the way of the public's trust. I regret having acted in ways that broke that trust. For that, I am deeply sorry. I love Charlotte. It is the city of my birth. I regret having hurt the city that I love. Out of concern for the city, I immediately resigned my post as Mayor.
Today, I have acknowledged being guilty of accepting monies for constituent services, something that should never have been done while serving in elected office. As I have asked of my family and friends, I also ask of you the public; your forgiveness.
I understand the anger, frustration and disappointment that my actions have caused. I can only hope that the life that I live from now on will reflect both my remorse and my desire to still make a positive impact upon our city. Finally, I want to express my appreciation to my family and friends, to my legal counsel, the faith community, and to the many people whose expressions of unconditional love and support have been, and continue to be, sources of strength and encouragement."
The DOJ Investigation
After the hearing, the U.S. Attorney's office also held a press conference and said the investigation is far from over.
"Mr. Cannon’s corrupt actions betrayed all of us," Tompkins says. "He betrayed the trust of his constituents. He betrayed the trust of his peers. And he compromised the integrity of our local government. But most significantly Mr. Cannon’s actions damaged Charlotte’s good reputation as a city that conducts its business in an honest way."
Cannon was arrested in March after a years-long FBI sting operation that was focused on investigating the Charlotte business community. As part of his plea agreement, Cannon has agreed to help in that investigation.