A federal grand jury in Asheville will not hear the corruption charges against Patrick Cannon on Tuesday, indefinitely delaying any indictment of the former Charlotte mayor.
The FBI arrested Cannon last week on bribery and extortion charges. Undercover agents posing as investors claim they showered the 47-year-old Democrat with almost $50,000 in payoffs, including a Las Vegas trip for him and his wife, in return for Cannon’s help negotiating the city’s zoning and permit process, according to an affidavit released in the case. Investigators say Cannon also solicited an additional $1.25 million.
An indictment was expected as early as this week. But Cannon’s attorney, James Ferguson of Charlotte, waived his client’s preliminary hearing. That released prosecutors from the requirement of having a grand jury indictment within 30 days of Cannon’s arrest, and sources familiar with the case said that as of Monday afternoon, grand jury action on the charges is on hold.
Ferguson could not be reached for comment Monday.
The Charlotte City Council, also on Monday, decided it won't pick a new mayor until April 7.
If convicted on all charges, Cannon faces up to 50 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. He resigned from the city’s top elected post within hours of his arrest, which occurred Wednesday when he allegedly showed up to collect another bribe at a SouthPark apartment leased by the FBI, a source said.
Cannon remained free Monday on an unsecured $25,000 bond. The office of U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins says the investigation continues.
Experts say the delay of an indictment could signal that plea discussions are imminent.
“Once that (indictment) happens, the opportunity for flexibility is greatly reduced,” said James Wyatt, a prominent Charlotte defense attorney.
While some experts expect a trial, Richard Myers, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches criminal law at UNC School of Law, said the pressure on Cannon to negotiate with his accusers has already started to grow.
“At some point, there will be a serious sit-down with counsels and the defendant, and the prosecutors will say, ‘Here’s what we got. Here’s where you are.’ ”
If Cannon agrees to cooperate with the government, how much benefit he gets depends on what he knows about any remaining major targets of the FBI’s probe, Myers said.
“When they ask you to roll, they tend to want you to roll uphill not down, and he was already the mayor.”
The Western District of North Carolina, which Tompkins represents, has two federal grand juries hearing cases throughout the year, and either could get Cannon’s case. One meets in Asheville on Tuesday. The other, in Charlotte, reconvenes April 15. It remained unclear Monday when or if Cannon’s case will be heard.
Skipping the preliminary hearing gives the defense team more time to study the evidence while Cannon avoids the negative publicity of an early indictment or a public airing of the evidence before a judge. Because the investigation continues, prosecutors have more time to develop their case and potentially bring additional charges against Cannon or any others involved.