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Patrick Cannon corruption investigation spreads to Mecklenburg County records

MAYOR FORUM
Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
Patrick Cannon

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Tuesday issued a subpoena to Mecklenburg County’s government, seeking records related to former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, County Attorney Marvin Bethune said.

The federal government last month issued an “extremely broad” subpoena to the city of Charlotte, which said Tuesday it is still collecting documents.

Bethune declined to say what types of records the federal government is seeking from the county.

Cannon, who was arrested on federal corruption charges March 26, told undercover agents he could influence local government, including permitting, planning and zoning, and alcohol licenses, according to a 42-page affidavit filed by the FBI. Many of those functions are handled by the city, but Mecklenburg County handles building permits to ensure compliance with the N.C. Building Code.

The FBI also claims Cannon told undercover agents posing as developers that he would speak with the county manager and chair of the county commissioners to ensure their project’s success, according to the affidavit.

Cannon was arrested after allegedly taking $48,000 in cash plus gifts as part of the FBI’s sting. The affidavit claims Cannon also solicited a bribe of more than $1 million. He resigned from the mayor’s office the day he was arrested.

Shortly after Cannon’s arrest, the city issued a directive to all city employees that they shouldn’t erase any documents related to Cannon, covering at least four years.

Bethune and County Manager Dena Diorio have spoken with investigators, as have some city officials.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann declined to say which city employees have spoken to investigators. He said last week he didn’t want to compromise the investigation.

City Manager Ron Carlee said he spoke with the FBI the day Cannon was arrested.

Members of Carlee’s executive team who were working in the city during Cannon’s tenure as mayor – Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble; Planning Director Debra Campbell; and Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell – declined to say whether they have spoken with investigators.

Carlee has adamantly said Charlotte is “not a pay-to-play” city, and there have been no arrests or transfers of any city employees related to the scandal as of Tuesday.

Some have speculated that Cannon exaggerated his influence among local officials in order to impress the undercover agents, who were posing as out-of-town developers.

The affidavit describes Cannon claiming to have influenced a “major project” involving a “prominent local businessman,” and goes on to say the FBI corroborated his claims but withholds details.

The subpoenas have put a freeze on public records requests relating to Cannon. At the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the city is not releasing information related to Cannon over the last four years.

In addition to the subpoenas for city and county governments, federal investigators executed search warrants on Cannon’s home, his E-Z Parking business and the mayor’s office at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. They seized a number of items, including campaign and personal finance records.

Cannon is free on an unsecured $25,000 bond. An indictment from a federal grand jury is expected to be the next step in the case. No timetable has been given for that.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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