The city of Charlotte is working to comply with an “extremely broad” federal subpoena in the investigation of former Mayor Patrick Cannon – including the unusual step of mining computer servers to ensure emails or other documents haven’t been deleted.
The city attorney’s office last week sent to all employees a “document hold directive,” which includes examples of documents sought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, dating back to Jan. 1, 2010.
In a 42-page federal affidavit, the federal government said Cannon took $48,000 in cash and gifts in exchange for offering to influence local government functions such as zoning, permits and liquor licenses.
He resigned last Wednesday shortly after the FBI arrested him.
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The subpoena and all search warrants regarding the Cannon case are sealed, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The city attorney’s memo said the subpoena covers “any document at all relating to Mr. Cannon” from 2010 to March 26.
According to the memo, that includes information such as personal financial disclosures filed by Cannon; agendas and dates of any ethics training Cannon took; all compensation paid to him; the passwords and encryption codes for his email; voice mail messages; and any document between Cannon and any employees.
In addition, the city says employees should include all documents related to Cannon’s businesses, which include E-Z Parking and Britrick Energy. Those documents include “contracts, bids, payments, invoices, permit applications, zoning variances, planning requests, citations and/or citizen complaints.”
Any electronic device assigned to Cannon must be preserved in its “current condition and produced to the grand jury in a manner that will permit forensic examination.”
When the city receives a public records request from citizens or the media, it usually forwards the request to the employee believed to be in possession of the records. That employee then looks through their email or files to produce the documents.
That method can lower costs and can be easier for the city, but it can also mean an employee could delete documents, even though that would violate the state’s open records laws.
To comply with the subpoena, the city will pull some documents from its servers.
“The subpoena is directed at the city as an organization,” said City Attorney Bob Hagemann. “To ensure nothing is destroyed or altered, the city will use all resources, including centralized IT functions.”
The city doesn’t have a cost estimate for the work.
Hagemann’s office has also hired outside legal help with the massive records request, at $450 an hour.
Richard S. Glaser of Parker Poe, who previously worked as first assistant and executive assistant United States attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, was hired Wednesday – the day Cannon was arrested.
His online biography says he “focuses his practice in the areas of white collar criminal defense and internal investigations. He works with public and private corporations to understand the foundation of the charge, build an investigative strategy, conduct a full inspection and then provide conclusions and recommended actions.”
In addition to the U.S. Attorney’s Office subpoena, the city has received numerous public records requests about Cannon, including from the Observer.
The city’s response has been to place those requests about Cannon on hold, while it works to comply with the subpoena.
“Our first priority is the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Hagemann said.
He said he didn’t know when the city would begin processing regular records requests.
City Manager Ron Carlee has said the city is operating “business as usual,” stressing that city services are being provided.
But there is city business pending in which Cannon could have unduly influenced decisions, such as upcoming zoning votes. In zoning cases, city staff sometimes begins working on applications months before the City Council votes.
In the federal affidavit laying out the case against Cannon, the former mayor last year told FBI agents posing as developers that he'd advocate for their projects to county building inspectors, the county commission chair, county manager and head of building standards.
It’s unclear how the city would respond to a records request from a resident or the media about an upcoming vote that would have involved Cannon.
As of Tuesday, Mecklenburg County had not been subpoenaed, said County Attorney Marvin Bethune. Mike Gordon and David Perlmutt contributed