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FBI talks to city, county officials in Patrick Cannon case

By Ely Portillo, Rick Rothacker and Steve Harrison
elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com

Federal agents have been talking to Charlotte and Mecklenburg officials as investigators follow up on public corruption charges facing former Mayor Patrick Cannon.

In its affidavit describing the case against Cannon, the FBI said he claimed he could influence city and county functions to help developers, including zoning, planning, the police and fire departments and alcohol permits. That leaves a wide range of local government functions federal investigators likely will scrutinize.

County Attorney Marvin Bethune and County Manager Dena Diorio have spoken with investigators, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the FBI has interviewed city officials. Hagemann wouldn’t say who because he didn’t want to compromise any city departments or the federal investigation.

He said the city is still fulfilling the federal government’s “extremely broad” subpoena of records related to the former mayor.

Bethune said he couldn’t say whether he has talked with investigators for ethical reasons. Diorio declined to comment on whether she has spoken with investigators.

Bethune said the county hasn’t received a subpoena yet.

“I anticipate that, sooner or later, they’ll be getting around to us,” he said.

Although Bethune didn’t give a timeline, sources said the county expects a subpoena soon. Bethune said the county might not disclose if it receives a subpoena.

“It’s possible that we would get a subpoena and not be able to talk about it,” he said.

City Manager Ron Carlee said he has been interviewed, though he declined to say what he was asked.

The Observer also attempted to contact other members of Carlee’s executive team who were working for the city during the Cannon sting, including Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, Planning Director Debra Campbell and Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell.

Charlotte spokesman Keith Richardson said staff wouldn’t discuss whether they have been interviewed by investigators.

“Given the circumstances and the questions you pose, it would be inappropriate for them to respond,” Richardson said.

Kimble is the city’s second-highest staff member and was Cannon’s choice to become the next city manager instead of Carlee. Cannon was the only City Council member to vote against Carlee’s hiring in 2013.

In the affidavit against Cannon, the FBI said the then-mayor gave an undercover agent posing as a developer contact information for a city department head. Cannon allegedly told the agent to tell the department head that he had received the contact information from Cannon and Carlee, and the unnamed department head would “pay special attention” to the agent.

Campbell is the city’s planning director. She was promoted to Carlee’s executive team in January. The affidavit says that at a February meeting, Cannon discussed an unnamed employee who was recently promoted to Carlee’s executive team. That employee was the same department head Cannon had provided the agent with contact information for.

“I’ll need to, uh, just kind of make sure I’m positioning (him/her) in case you need different things,” Cannon said, according to the affidavit.

Campbell released a statement March 27 that said she has “always demonstrated the highest level of professionalism and integrity ... The values I hold for myself and my department are honesty, impeccable character and integrity. I expect my staff to adhere to these values no matter who the customer is.”

Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell is the liaison with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and the Charlotte Fire Department, two other areas Cannon allegedly claimed influence over.

Cannon is accused of taking $48,500 in cash plus gifts in exchange for promising to use his influence to help undercover agents posing as out-of-town developers interested in building in Charlotte.

Staff writer David Perlmutt contributed.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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