Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon is scheduled to plead guilty this morning to a federal corruption charge. Documents unsealed Monday revealed some new information in the case against him, such as allegations of a bribe that a strip club owner paid Cannon for help with a zoning matter.
Cannon has agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud. The maximum sentence for that is 20 years in prison, but federal prosecutors suggest he serve between five and six years.
“Which could result at the end of the day depending on what happens, a judge going down to a much lower sentence,” says Duke law professor Sam Buell, a former federal prosecutor.
In exchange, Cannon has agreed to talk and name names. The plea agreement says Cannon 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.
Buell says the fact that federal prosecutors were willing to offer the former mayor a plea deal shows they’re likely building a bigger case.
“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,” Buell says.
The plea agreement is dated May 12th, but had been sealed.
New Details Revealed
Another unsealed document offers some new details into the charges. In it, a city employee calls this real estate developer — at Cannon’s request — about a nightclub the developer wants to open. And he’s paid Cannon to help navigate zoning laws. Of course, the nightclub is fictional and the developer’s actually an undercover FBI agent, but City Manager Ron Carlee had previously indicated that city law prohibits council members from directly contacting city employees. Carlee clarified his remarks Monday evening.
“Contacting a staff member and asking them to call a constituent or follow-up with an issue with a constituent is routine. It’s very routine,” he said.
Carlee says giving directives is illegal. Of course, accepting money for any of it is very illegal. City officials didn’t have much else to say about the charges. Mayor Dan Clodfelter says they’re cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s office and trying not to dwell on it.
“We move forward from the very first day, and we’ve never looked back and never stopped, so that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” Clodfelter says.
The more salacious detail involves Cannon, a strip club, and the Blue Line extension. The light rail project ran through the strip club in the University area. The owner needed to relocate, and needed zoning changes to do it. Cannon accepts bribes from 2009 until his March arrest, including $2,000 in January 2013.
In return, Cannon calls zoning, planning, and transportation officials, and even sets up a meeting with the strip club owner. No charges have been filed or names given, but a club called Twin Peeks fits the description. It was right in the Blue Line’s path, but was demolished last summer and hasn’t been rebuilt. The man who owned it did not respond to a request for comment. His name is David “Slim” Baucom.
“Slim” Baucom has another thing in common with Cannon – a close association with a man named Mohammad Jenatian.
Jenatian is president of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance – or HTA. He’s a power broker known for getting things done for companies and getting campaign contributions to politicians. Cannon and Baucom have both been on the board of the HTA since at least 2005.
And the FBI is looking into at least one other case in Charlotte involves the former Mayor, and the head of the HTA.
For more than a month the FBI has been investigating allegations Cannon and Jenatian ran a pay-to-play scheme involving taxi companies and the airport.
As for Jenatian and Baucom? The pair has been caught up in a scandal before. A political action committee Jenatian controlled channeled $4,000 from Baucom to then House speaker Jim Black. It wasn’t until an investigation was launched that Baucom’s name was added to campaign finance records.
Black eventually pleaded guilty to broader corruption charges.
Patrick Cannon is expected to do the same today at 10:45 a.m. And potentially – in accordance with his plea – he will name names.