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Will Cannon’s wife face legal trouble?

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Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
(L-R), The Honorable Tyyawdi Hands Judge ,Mecklenburg County District Court administers the oath of office to Patrick Cannon as Charlotte's new mayor ,with his family Trenna,wife,Patrick 12 son , Monday night,Dec. 02,2013 at the Charlotte Government Center.

One of the people who may have known about former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon’s interactions with undercover federal agents was his wife.

The affidavit alleges that Trenna Cannon thanked agents for $1,000 in spending money in Las Vegas. Among the items seized from the Cannon residence were financial records related to Patrick or Trenna Cannon.

She was not charged Wednesday. Legal experts speculated that troubles for her could depend on whether Patrick Cannon cooperates and how much federal authorities can prove she knew about the bribes Cannon allegedly accepted.

Trenna Cannon may face more difficulty from tax issues, said James Wyatt III, a criminal defense lawyer with Wyatt and Blake. If the Cannons filed jointly and didn’t report the payments that he and she allegedly received, she could face tax charges along with her husband, he said.

“If she simply had knowledge but wasn’t an active participant, then it may be difficult to bring criminal charges,” Wyatt said.

Scott Broyles, a former federal prosecutor who is now an associate professor with the Charlotte School of Law, says a lot will hinge on whether Patrick Cannon cooperates with federal officials investigating the case.

“If the husband and wife are cooperating, they both get whatever breaks are fair,” he said. Spouses can’t be forced to testify against one another, but they can be used as leverage.

Trenna Cannon is a licensed real estate agent. However, the firm she was associated with, Allen Tate Real Estate of Charlotte, said Thursday that she was no longer an agent there.

Susan Larkins, a spokesperson for Allen Tate, could not confirm when Trenna Cannon’s connection there ended. She was listed on a Tate Web page Wednesday that was no longer operating Thursday.

The Cannons, who met as students at N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro, have been married since 1996. They live in Ballantyne with their two children, ages 10 and 13.

The U.S. attorney’s office won’t comment on whether further charges are possible. But her involvement in the case against her husband was detailed in two sections of the affidavit released Wednesday:

She accompanied Patrick Cannon to Las Vegas to meet with investors who actually were undercover agents, later thanking an agent over a speakerphone for $1,000 they were given during that trip, the affidavit says.

And when Patrick Cannon received a briefcase with $20,000 in a Charlotte meeting, according to the affidavit, he told an undercover agent, “I told Trenna she has a point.”

When an agent asked for clarification, he said, “A point, 1 percent,” which agents said meant that he was asking for a 1 percent payoff, or $1.25 million, from a potential $125 million project being discussed, the affidavit says.

Both Broyles and Wyatt said the descriptions of the trip to Las Vegas and the money received there, if proven, were the least damaging allegations. She could have been told the trip involved legitimate business and that the $1,000 was a campaign contribution.

Broyes said the 1 percent comment, if true, could be more troublesome. It could suggest she was advising her husband, making her an accomplice.

However, Wyatt was less convinced. Because the alleged statement was reported by Patrick Cannon, he said, there’s no proof she actually said it.

“The issue is whether there’s more evidence that establishes her knowledge,” he said. Whether a spouse is actively involved usually depends on whether he or she is engaged in a transaction, such as depositing or spending money that he or she knew came from bribes.

Purvis: 704-358-5236
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