This morning, Patrick Cannon walked into the Federal Courthouse Uptown and was sentenced to 44 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $50,000 in restitution and a $10,000 fine. The former Charlotte mayor pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking more than $50,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents. WFAE’s Tom Bullock was in the courtroom.
Mark Rumsey: Cannon and his legal team began the proceedings asking for leniency. How did they make that case?
Tom Bullock: They had a three-point plan. The first was to portray Patrick Cannon as two different Patrick Cannons: the man before and after his March 26 arrest. They called two character witnesses who each portrayed Cannon as a straight arrow, a devout Christian and a public servant willing to drop everything to help someone in need. And they stressed their belief that Cannon was a good father–one whose absence would punish his two children, aged 13 and 16, unfairly. They talked of a contrite, remorseful man after his arrest. One of the witnesses, his former Sunday school teacher, said Cannon cried on his shoulder after his arrest and reportedly said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
The second point in the defense’s argument for leniency was that Cannon had been in public service for more than 20 years and that taking bribes from January 2013 until his arrest was an aberration. They admitted it was an illegal act, but Henderson Hill, one of Cannon’s attorneys, said it was more important to look at the totality of the man and not just the events that led to Cannon’s guilty plea.
Their final point was focused on the structure of Charlotte’s city government itself. We have a strong city manager and council system. They argued that the mayor is in many ways a figurehead. So Cannon’s punishment should be as diluted as his actual power. They asked the judge for probation, or if prison time must be served, a sentence of 18 months.
MR: And how did the federal prosecutors respond to these arguments?
TB: They methodically countered each. They said if Cannon’s absence punishes his children unfairly, that is Cannon’s fault and not the court’s. And even if the mayor of Charlotte doesn’t hold a lot of power, they are still an elected official and official corruption is a crime, no matter the structure of government.
And as to the defense’s claim that Cannon’s illegal acts were an aberration, US Attorney Anne Tompkins said Cannon took multiple bribes. The undercover investigation went on for more than three years. She argued that this shows it’s anything but an aberration.
As part of Cannon’s plea deal, prosecutors agreed to ask for no more than 5 years in prison. They asked for 3 years and one month.
MR: Did Patrick Cannon address the court?
TB: Through most of the proceedings, Cannon sat quietly with his legal team. He looked straight ahead. But towards the end, he had his turn. He stood up and the first thing he said was he now only knows shame. He was sorry for doing wrong and sorry he brought shame on him and his family.
And that was the tone throughout his remarks. Cannon said he loves Charlotte, it is his home, but he had failed as a father, husband, civic leader and as a citizen.
MR: US District Judge Frank Whitney came to his own decision on length, and it was a much stiffer sentence: three years and eight months. How did he come to that ruling?
TB: He went through, point by point, both sides of the arguments. In the end he felt that the 37 months was too lenient; that though Cannon himself posed no threat of being a repeat offender, Judge Whitney believed deterrence was needed for other politicians that might be tempted to take bribes.
He listed off eight other public officials in North Carolina who had been convicted of corruption. The average length of their sentences was 47 months. He gave Cannon a slightly lower sentence, because he believed Cannon did fully admit to his crimes and cooperated in the investigation.
MR: One of the outstanding questions in the Patrick Cannon case is if he would give the government any incriminating evidence on other civic, business and community leaders. Did today’s proceedings shed any light on that?
TB: That was one of the conditions in his plea agreement. And inside the courtroom it sounded as if he provided no information that would lead to other cases or investigations. At one point, Assistant US Attorney Craig Randall said Cannon had been truthful but provided nothing significant that would lead to further prosecutions.
Then after the sentencing, US Attorney Anne Tompkins said this of the investigation of others in Charlotte: "The investigation is ongoing, therefore I won't be discussing any aspects of the case at all."
So we’ll just have to wait and see.
MR: Do we know how long Cannon will actually serve?
TB: There’s no parole in federal cases but they do give inmates time off for good behavior. And one legal expert we spoke with said Cannon could serve just 37 of the 44 month sentence. And one other twist–that time could be cut down further because Cannon is asking for mental health counseling and care for alcohol abuse. That could cut as much as a year off his sentence as well. So, potentially, Patrick Cannon could serve just over two years of his sentence.
Update 3:00 p.m.
Mayor Clodfelter held a press conference this afternoon in the mayor's office to say that he hasn't seen any evidence of widespread or significant problems of corruption in the city. He added that no new policies could have prevented what happened. He says what Cannon did was illegal under existing policies.
"It’s a reminder that we have to be constantly paying attention to these kind of issues," Clodfelter says. "But it has not disrupted the function of the counsel or the professional staff organization, which has just moved right ahead."
Update 2:00 p.m.
Chief US District Court Judge Frank D. Whitney sentenced Cannon to 44 months in federal prison followed by two years of probation and a $10,000 fine on Tuesday afternoon.
Cannon quickly resigned as mayor in March. US Attorney Anne Tompkins said after the sentencing that his actions hurt the city's reputation by associating Charlotte with public corruption.
"Patrick Cannon betrayed the citizens of Charlotte through his bribery scheme and today he paid the price for that," Tompkins says. "The judge sentenced him to 44 months in federal prison and I think that justice was served today."
Tompkins did not comment on whether more arrests would be made. She said the investigation into the Charlotte business community is still ongoing.
After the sentencing hearing, Cannon was released on bond.