Patrick Cannon surrendered moments ago at a snowy West Virginia prison, starting the process in which the former Charlotte mayor officially becomes federal inmate 29396-058.
A black SUV carrying the convicted felon drove onto Federal Correctional Institution Morgantown just after 11:30 a.m.
Cannon, wearing a tan sweater, got out at a guard house and climbed into a truck that carried him to another building behind the front office. He never looked up at the media massed along a road near the prison entrance.
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Bureau of Prison spokesman Chris Burke said Cannon officially checked in at 11:40 a.m.
The 47-year-old Democrat spent Monday night in a West Virginia hotel after starting the 400-mile drive to Morgantown that morning, according to Greg Forrest, head of the U.S. Probation Office in Charlotte.
He entered the minimum-security prison against a wintry backdrop. Snow squalls blew through Morgantown at sunrise and again at 11 a.m. It was still 20 degrees at noon. Windchill: 6 degrees.
With his arrival, Cannon begins a 44-month sentence for accepting illegal payments from FBI undercover agents and a Charlotte strip-club owner. He pleaded guilty to pocketing more than $50,000 in illegal payments over a 13-month period ending in February.
Now, he becomes the first mayor in the city’s history to be imprisoned for a crime.
On Sunday morning, Cannon changed his Facebook page. His posted a new cover photo: “redemption,” it reads in large letters. He also added this quote from author C.S. Lewis. “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
Given the programs and good-behavior incentives available to all federal inmates, Cannon could serve fewer than two years at Federal Correction Institution Morgantown before returning to home confinement or a Charlotte halfway house.
While Cannon has refused interviews since he was charged with accepting more than $50,000 in bribes from undercover FBI officers, he has not necessarily kept a low profile. He has posted often on his Facebook page, and last month Cannon illegally voted – he says he didn’t realize he was breaking the law – which put him under house arrest until he made the trip to the prison. FCI Morgantown is about a six-hour drive from Cannon’s south Charlotte home.
On Nov. 8, Cannon hosted a party for family and acquaintances that he called a “celebration of friendship.”
His weekend Facebook post looking ahead to a brighter future drew prayers and words of encouragement from friends and supporters.
“Jesus is your intercessor before His Father,” one wrote. “He is alive and well and takes delight in giving new life to those who fall short of His Glory! You are in position for greatness and though you have been persecuted and marred by the strife of man, you remain precious in His Sight. You will RISE AGAIN!!!!”
Cannon’s fall was put in motion in 2010, when he became the target of an FBI corruption probe. Starting in January 2013, undercover agents posing as out-of-town real estate investors paid Cannon five separate bribes to expedite their supposed projects.
Court records also indicate that Charlotte strip-club mogul David “Slim” Baucom kept Cannon on virtual retainer, paying him a regular sum that he increased when he needed special favors.
U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins says the original investigation continues, though Cannon remains the only arrest. Over the last eight months, Tompkins’ staff and the FBI have pored though thousands of pages of documents and are believed to have delved into everything from the city’s taxi contracts at the airport to the path and construction of the new light rail line to UNC Charlotte.
Tompkins declined comment for this story.
Cannon’s attorney, James Ferguson, did not respond to requests for an interview
Cannon’s first inmate hours
Under prison regulations, Cannon had to identify himself before entering the prison, Burke says.
His first task: Changing out of his street clothes and putting on his prison clothing. He can keep a wedding ring and one religious medallion – as long as neither cost more than $100. All his other personal belongings will be shipped back to Charlotte at prison expense.
Cannon will be fingerprinted, photographed and his profile entered into prison records. He will then have a series of meetings – with his case manager and counselor, among others – that are part of his admission and prison orientation. He will be handed a copy of the inmate handbook, which contains the prison’s rules, regulations and available programs.
Over his first two weeks, Cannon also will undergo a series of medical and psychological assessments. He has requested enrollment in the prison’s Residential Drug Abuse Program, or RDAP, which covers nine months of treatment and training. If he is accepted and completes the program, it could cut a year off his sentence.
Minimum-security prisons offer dormitory-style housing. Morgantown has seven residential buildings. Five offer two-inmate rooms and hold about 130 inmates, says the prison’s spokeswoman, Marilyn Veltri. The others are larger, with capacity for up to 550 inmates and are more like barracks. The showers are in stalls and have curtains.
Cannon will be expected to work, and will be assigned a job based on what the prison needs, not what he wants to do, Burke says. Those jobs officially take 35-40 hours a week, and pay 12 cents to 40 cents an hour. Cannon can later apply for the job he wants.
His earnings will be automatically deposited in his prison account, which he can access to buy items at the prison’s extensive commissary. His family can also deposit money into his account, which Cannon will need to purchase phone time and send emails. Vetri says inmates do not have Internet access.
Visitors are allowed Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Since his arrest, Cannon has frequently used his Facebook page to post comments or links to pet causes. His supporters consistently have responded with words of encouragement, just as they did over the weekend.
“Every setback is the beginning of a comeback,” one person wrote.
Added another: “God forgives ... man will never let you live it down.
“Be encouraged.” John Simmons contributed