Ex-Charlotte mayor pleads guilty in corruption case

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Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon pleaded to a single count of honest services wire fraud.

Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon walked into a federal courtroom Tuesday and pleaded guilty in a corruption case after an FBI sting recorded him accepting thousands of dollars in cash and airline tickets from undercover agents posing as businessmen, according to court documents.

Cannon pleaded to a single count of honest services wire fraud. He was arrested March 26 and the Democrat resigned the same day, less than six months after taking office.

"Yes, sir, your honor, I am," Cannon, a 47-year-old Democrat, told U.S. Magistrate Judge David Cayer when asked whether he was guilty. Cannon also said he understood that he faced a potential sentence of 20 years.

Cayer accepted the guilty plea, and Cannon left the courthouse free on bond. A sentencing date will be set at a later hearing before a U.S. district court judge. Prosecutors said Cannon's continued release would help promote further cooperation with the ongoing FBI investigation.

"I am deeply sorry. I love Charlotte. It is the city of my birth," Cannon said in prepared remarks before a bank of TV cameras outside the federal courthouse. "Today I have acknowledged being guilty of accepting monies for constituent services, something that should never have been done while serving in elected office."

Cannon's admission of guilt ends a remarkable rise for a man raised by a single mother in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. He went on to start his own company that manages 25,000 parking spaces, mostly in the city's central business district.

North Carolina Governor - and former Charlotte Mayor - Pat McCrory reacted to the plea Tuesday - calling the case "heartbreaking."

Cannon was first elected to the City Council in 1993 and became mayor in November, replacing Anthony Foxx, who was named Transportation Secretary by President Barack Obama.

According to the federal criminal complaint, Cannon accepted more than $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room and the use of a luxury apartment from FBI agents posing as real estate developers who wanted to do work with North Carolina's largest city. Cannon is also accused of soliciting up to $1 million more in bribes from the undercover agents.

If he had been convicted on all charges at trial, Cannon faced up to 50 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines.

The investigation began in August 2010 after a tip from a local undercover officer about public corruption. At the time, Cannon was a city councilman.

The complaint said Cannon bragged to agents about his close relationship with former Charlotte mayor and current North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, as well as a recent meeting he had at the White House with Obama. In exchange for the bribes, the mayor promised the undercover agents access to city officials responsible for planning, zoning and permitting, according to the complaint.

On the last occasion, a private meeting in the mayor's office on Feb. 21, the agent reportedly gave Cannon a briefcase filled with $20,000 in cash.

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