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By Mark Washburn, Jim Morrill and Mike Gordon, The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon was arrested Wednesday on public corruption charges after a four-year investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte announced.

Cannon was charged with theft and bribery after an FBI sting operation, said Anne Tompkins, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. He was released on an undisclosed bond, pending indictment.

Authorities said Cannon took bribes from undercover FBI agents five times — the most recent on Feb. 21 when he took $20,000 in cash in the mayor’s office — and a trip to Las Vegas.

Tompkins said Cannon also accepted from the undercover agents more than $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room and use of a luxury apartment in exchange for “the use of his official position,” Tompkins said.

Cannon is the longest-serving elected official in Charlotte, having joined the Charlotte City Council in 1993. He is the region’s highest-ranking official to be charged in a corruption case since former North Carolina House speaker Jim Black of Matthews was convicted in 2007.

At a Jan. 17, 2013 meeting, one FBI agent gave Cannon $12,500 in cash by putting it on a coffee table in front of him. Cannon, according to the affidavit, looked nervously toward a window and covered the money with a folder.

After the agent closed the blinds, Cannon put the money to his ear and fanned the bills.

FBI agents, working on a tip that Cannon, 47, was potentially involved in illegal activities, started an investigation in August 2010, Tompkins said in a statement.

Cannon — elected mayor five months ago after a long political career in Charlotte — solicited and accepted cash bribes and other items of value from undercover FBI agents, posing as commercial real estate developers and investors who wanted to do business in Charlotte, Tompkins said.

“On five separate occasions between Jan. 17, 2013 and Feb. 21, 2014, Cannon accepted cash payments from undercover FBI agents in exchange for access to city officials with responsibility for planning, zoning and permitting,” according to an affidavit filed in the case.

FBI agents searched the mayor’s office at the City-County government center, his home and his offices at E-Z Parking Inc.

If found guilty on all charges, Cannon faces up to 50 years in prison and fines of $1.5 million.

Based on a tip from a local law enforcement officer on potential public corruption, the FBI launched its investigation and zeroed in on Cannon in 2011, according to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Eric Davis.

At the time the probe began, Cannon was a City Council member and mayor pro tem.

Cannon made a brief court appearance Wednesday at the federal courthouse in uptown where he was told, among other things, that he could not be in possession of firearms, according to WCNC-TV.
Cannon declined comment when approached by a WCNC-TV reporter as he left the courthouse, but indicated he might talk later. “At this point, there’s nothing to respond to,” Cannon said.

Photo: The.Comedian via Flickr

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