Screenshot of Patrick Cannon accepting a $20,000 bribe in his mayoral office while serving as Charlotte mayor (Source: FBI)
Screenshot of Patrick Cannon in Las Vegas (Source: FBI)
Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon speaks at the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building on West Trade Street in Charlotte after his plea hearing on June 3, 2014. (Davie Hinshaw | The Charlotte Observer)
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -
It’s been more than two years since then-Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested on public corruption charges and now the FBI has released evidence federal investigators used against him.
The FBI released videos from the Cannon investigation to the media Wednesday afternoon.
Cannon is currently serving a 44-month sentence, in a federal prison in West Virginia, after he pleaded guilty to accepting more than $50,000 from undercover agents while serving as Charlotte's mayor. He resigned from the position in late March 2014, nearly eight hours after he was arrested by the FBI.
He was initially charged with theft and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud and extortion under color of official right. Cannon pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud in June 2014.
The FBI’s investigation into Cannon began in August 2010 when court documents say agents received “reliable information” that Cannon was potentially involved in illegal activities associated with his position as an elected official. Cannon was on the Charlotte City Council at the time.
He was elected as Charlotte mayor in November 2013 and took office in December.
According to documents, Cannon solicited and accepted money bribes and things of value from undercover FBI agents, posing as commercial real estate developers and investors wishing to do business in Charlotte, on five separate occasions.
In April 2015, WBTV told you about the existence of surveillance videos depicting multiple interactions Cannon had with undercover FBI agents.
WBTV’s Sarah-Blake Morgan was one of the few to view the videos as part of the FBI’s annual citizen’s academy.
Since then, she’s been asking the federal government to make those videos public, submitting multiple Freedom of Information Act requests. Nearly a year later, the FBI complied, releasing edited versions of the surveillance videos.
In the first video, Cannon was handed large amounts of cash inside a SouthPark-based apartment in Charlotte. Before accepting the money, you can see Cannon looking out the window as if to make sure no one was watching him. He then takes the cash and covers it up with a folder on a coffee table.
One day later, Cannon seems to worry about the possibility of being caught in a phone conversation with the undercover agent.
"I look good in an orange neck tie, not an orange suit," Cannon said.
The group was then shown two pieces of surveillance video shot by the FBI in Las Vegas. Agents say Cannon believed he was meeting with a group of foreign investors, who were in fact undercover agents. The conversation reveals a constant request from Cannon for more and more money.
"If it's political, that's a problem. For the Mayor's Office, it's just, this is where we're going to be. We're going to change this process... And that's the power of this office. Plus you can veto," Cannon said.
He was given an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas, but ended up asking for $1,000 more dollars in spending money for his wife.
The final piece of video, which occurred on February 21 - days before his 2014 arrest, Cannon is seen accepting a bribe from an undercover agent inside the mayor's office. Court documents show there was $20,000 inside the briefcase.
In this clip, there is a moment when Cannon appears to become nervous about the exchange. He stands up, starts to pace back and forth and clenches his fists, worried that his secretary will notice the man leaving his office without the briefcase he had when he walked in.
"You came in with the bag, you can't leave without the bag," Cannon says to the agent.
The video, from inside the office, shows Cannon trying to work out another drop off location with the undercover agent, even suggesting he'll meet him out by the airport to get the money. Ultimately, Cannon decides to accept the briefcase in his office, saying to the agent, "maybe you just forgot your briefcase" and the agent agrees.
In total, investigators say Cannon accepted more than $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room, and use of a luxury apartment in exchange for the use of his official position.
WBTV spoke with Chris Swecker, former FBI Assistant Director of Criminal Investigations. He applauded the bureau for releasing the videos.
"I think the general public has a hard time believing things unless they have the visual impact of a video," Swecker said.
Swecker says Cannon's is one of the most blatant public corruption cases he's ever seen.
"Most of the time, it's a wink and a nod and they take the money. And it's very ambiguous. In this case, it was very expressly stated what he was going to do and what he was taking the money for," Swecker said.
Cannon began his 44-month sentence in federal prison in November 2014.
Last month, Cannon was back in Charlotte for a short time to face charges of voter fraud. The charge stems from an absentee ballot Cannon cast in October for the November 2014 general election. As a convicted felon, Cannon was not allowed to vote.
Cannon signed a plea agreement to a lesser charge of attempting voter fraud, a Class 1 misdemeanor charge. He will serve one day in jail, which will run concurrent to his federal time served.