Former Mayor Patrick Cannon pleads guilty in federal corruption case
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Former Charlotte mayor Patrick Cannon has pleaded guilty in the federal corruption case against him.
Cannon entered the plea at a hearing just before noon on Tuesday at the Charles Jonas Federal Courthouse at 10:45 a.m.
At a press conference following Cannon's guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said Tuesday's developments were a significant step forward in the bribery scheme investigation.
"The city of Charlotte is on the path to regaining the public's trust," Tompkins said. "At the end of the day Charlotte will be better for it."
Cannon pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud.
Tompkins said Cannon had shown a complete disregard for the fiduciary duties of his elected office.
The special agent in charge of the FBI for North Carolina, John Strong, said the investigation does not end with Tuesday's guilty plea.
Strong said his agents are "looking into related allegations."
Patrick Cannon resigned his position as Charlotte mayor in late March, nearly eight hours after he was arrested by the FBI.
He was arrested on charges of theft and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, honest services wire fraud and extortion under color of official right.
On Monday morning, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed to have the documents in the case unsealed saying there was no longer a need to have the case sealed. A judge approved the motion and ordered that the case be unsealed.
WBTV is digging through the paperwork, looking at documents that were previously unavailable to the public.
Two of those documents were a plea agreement and a bill of information, both were filed on May 12.
Cannon signed the plea agreement May 8, 2014. The U.S. Attorney says Cannon defrauded the people of Charlotte from honest and faithful services through bribery and hiding information.
Cannon is charged with one violation of Honest Services Wire Fraud for accepting bribes no less $50,000 and no greater than $70,000. The maximum sentence is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Based on the documents, it appears Cannon has been cooperating with investigators. And if he accepts responsibility for his offense, the US attorneys will recommend a two-level reduction in offense level. Cannon will also have to be available to testify in other federal cases if he's needed.
And prosecutors have agreed if the Cannon holds up his end of the bargain anything that he discloses will not be used against him in any other criminal proceeding.
Lawyer Brad Smith, who is in private practice and has experience with federal cases said the judge will still determine Cannon's fate.
"When Patrick Cannon goes into federal court tomorrow there isn't going to be anything guaranteed about what he will ultimately get as a sentence in this case." said Smith, "It's not likely he'll get twenty years but that's essentially could be hanging over his head."
Officials do not expect that Cannon will be sentenced during the hearing on Tuesday. Smith said sentencing likely won't happen next week. He says a lot of it will depend on things we don't know right now—like what federal cases Cannon would be needed to testify in. Smith says Cannon will probably be able to remain out on bond after he pleads guilty to a judge.
"We are looking forward to closure. We are looking forward to continuing to do the work of the city. The new mayor has jumped right in and is keeping us on task," said City Councilman Kenny Smith, a Republican from District 6.
WBTV spoke to Mayor Daniel Clodfelter, who filled Cannon's seat in April.
"We have been providing information as requested by the U.S. Attorney's Office, and we'll continue to cooperate as they request," Clodfelter said.
Clodfelter joined city council members for a regularly scheduled meeting at the airport Monday afternoon.
"This is a really really bad episode for Patrick and his family, and it's been stressfull for us, but I think we're in a position where we can start our work to continue to move forward," said Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Barnes before the meeting.
Defense attorney Monroe Whitesides told WBTV that usually with a Bill of Information, the defense lawyer has already tendered to the prosecutor what his client will plead guilty to.
He said this generally keeps things out of the hands of a grand jury.
The Bill of Information filed in May is based on the charge of Honest Services Wire Fraud.
"A bill of information is a way for the parties to come to an agreement for a case that's not going trial," he said. "A jury trial does involve an awful lot of openness that a Bill of information plea may preclude."
When it comes to the Bill of Information, deals are cut before cases are presented to a grand jury.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is set to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The city of Charlotte released a statement on Monday afternoon about the unsealed documents.
"Today we learned about the filing of the Bill of Information by the U.S. Attorney in the Patrick Cannon case. It is our hope that this filing will advance the resolution of the case at the earliest possible date," city officials said.
"The City continues to cooperate fully with federal investigators in order to deal appropriately with any allegations of wrongdoing. Until the federal investigation is complete, it is inappropriate for City personnel to comment on any of the specifics of the case."
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