The filing of a routine court document Wednesday has started the clock on Patrick Cannon’s pending imprisonment.
The former mayor of Charlotte, who pleaded guilty to accepting more than $50,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents and a Charlotte strip club owner, was sentenced this week to 44 months in prison and a $10,100 fine, among other penalties. He has been free on bond since his March 26 arrest.
U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney told Cannon at his sentencing Tuesday that he had been undermined by his own “raw greed” and had tarnished his city and his office. He is the first mayor in the city’s history to be ordered to prison.
Wednesday, Cannon’s sentence officially became part of his case file. That makes the 47-year-old Democrat the responsibility of the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshal Service, which are charged with finding Cannon a cell.
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Experts say the posting of a judge’s sentencing order, though routine, can take up to two weeks during heavy court schedules. Cannon, however, was Whitney’s only case Tuesday, which allowed the preparation and posting of the judge’s order to occur far more quickly.
Usually 6-8 week process
That, in turn, could shave significant time off the wait for Cannon’s imprisonment to begin. Attorneys in Charlotte say the normal process here takes six to eight weeks.
Cannon and his attorneys asked that he be able to report to his assigned prison on Dec. 30 so he could spend the holidays and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with his wife and children.
Whitney refused, saying Cannon’s pending separation from his loved ones is the result of his crimes, not the actions of his prosecutors or the courts.
The judge did say he would recommend Cannon be placed in a prison near Charlotte and that he be evaluated for an appropriate alcohol and drug-abuse treatment program once he’s behind bars. But he left it to the prison system to decide when Cannon must report.
That date remains in question as federal courts in the Carolinas sentence hundreds of new inmates and corrections officials try to fit them in – “bureaucratic machines grinding away in the face of other bureaucratic machines,” as UNC Law School Dean Richard Myers described it.
Whitney did Cannon no favors, nor did he single him out, said Myers, who worked for Whitney as a prosecutor when the judge served as the U.S. attorney in Raleigh.
“Cannon knew this day was coming. Now he goes on the Bureau of Prisons’ schedule. They will make it work however they make it work.”
Nearby federal prisons
While prison officials aren’t bound by Whitney’s recommendation to place Cannon nearby, they generally try to comply.
The three closest federal prisons to Charlotte are in Edgefield, S.C. (about 140 miles away), Butner (150 miles) and Beckley, W.Va. (210 miles). Cannon will self-report, which is customary for white-collar criminals in the courts of the Western District of North Carolina.
Under the advisory federal sentencing guidelines, Cannon was in line for a sentence of between 46 and 57 months. His defense team asked for 18.
U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins, whose office directed a four-year investigation of Cannon, recommended 37 months, telling Whitney that Cannon had admitted his guilt and cooperated with prosecutors in their continued investigation of corruption in Charlotte.
However, prosecutors acknowledged in court that Cannon’s information had been of limited value. They did say the mayor’s admission of guilt saved taxpayer money and spared the city from a potentially divisive debate over the case.
“With his answers, we were able to put some things to rest ... preventing the government from spinning its wheels, ” Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Randall told Whitney.
Whitney, however, leaned toward a longer sentence, then compared Cannon’s corruption case to those he had investigated or prosecuted in Raleigh – from former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps to U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance and former state legislator Michael Decker. Each received a 48-month sentence.
In the end, Whitney gave Cannon credit for his cooperation but cut only four months from his sentence.
Charlotte defense attorney James Wyatt described the prosecutors’ 37-month recommendation for Cannon as “appropriate and smart.”
Tompkins and her staff knew Whitney was “likely to give Cannon a stiffer sentence because of the damage to the integrity of the city of Charlotte,” Wyatt said. On the other hand, judges generally defer to prosecutors in evaluating a defendant’s cooperation.
In the end, Wyatt said, Whitney met prosecutors halfway in deciding Cannon’s punishment.
Tompkins called the sentence “just and fair.”
She also said the investigation that will put Cannon in prison remains open. Though the FBI and Tompkins’ office have pored over thousands of local government records and investigated the city’s airport taxi contracts and the development along its light-rail line, Cannon remains the only arrest.
‘Slim’ Baucom’s status
Speculation continues to surround strip club mogul David “Slim” Baucom, whom prosecutors say gave Cannon a $2,000 bribe, kept him on virtual retainer and paid him extra for favors at the Government Center.
When asked Wednesday if he had any comments on the sentencing of Cannon, Baucom replied, “Absolutely not.”
Asked if had been in recent contact with federal investigators, he said, “I haven’t heard a word.” Staff writers Ames Alexander and Elizabeth Leland contributed.