Charlotte mayor resigns; accused of taking bribes

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, who has been in office less than six months, resigned Wednesday, just hours after he was arrested and accused of taking more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen who wanted to do work with North Carolina’s largest city.

Cannon submitted his resignation letter to city manager Ron Carlee and city attorney Bob Hagemann, Charlotte spokesman Keith Richardson said in an email. The 47-year-old Cannon is charged with bribery and public corruption. The Democrat took cash, airline tickets, a hotel room and the use of a luxury apartment as bribes and solicited more than $1 million more, according to a criminal complaint from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Cannon said in his resignation letter that the pending charges “will create too much of a distraction” for the business of the city to go forward. He said it was effective immediately.

“I regret that I have to take this action, but I believe that it is in the best interest of the City for me to do so,” he said.

Cannon did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment. He had an initial court appearance Wednesday and was released on $25,000 unsecured bond.

While working with the undercover agents, Cannon touted his close relationship with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and a trip to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama and other administration officials, according to the complaint.

At one point, an undercover agent said to Cannon: “You’re operating at quite a level Patrick.”

If convicted on all the charges, Cannon faces up to 50 years in prison and more than $1 million in fines.

Cannon, a longtime radio show host and the founder of E-Z parking, a parking management company, was elected mayor in November, replacing Anthony Foxx, who was named Transportation Secretary by Obama.

According to the complaint, FBI agents posing as commercial real estate developers paid Cannon on five separate occasions between January 2013 and February 2014. Cannon accepted cash in exchange for access to city officials responsible for planning, zoning and permitting.

On the last occasion, Cannon accepted $20,000 in cash in the mayor’s office, the complaint said.

U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman Lia Bantavani said the investigation was ongoing. She declined further comment.

The investigation began in August 2010 after a tip from a local undercover officer about public corruption. At the time, Cannon still held an at-large seat on the Charlotte City Council. He was first elected to the council in 1993 at age 26, becoming the youngest council member in the city’s history.

When he was 5, his father was found dead of a gunshot wound outside a vacant school. He was raised by his mother, Carmen, who worked on a truck assembly line. They lived in housing projects.

After graduating from South Mecklenburg High, he earned a degree in communications with a minor in marketing from historically black North Carolina A&T; State University in Greensboro.

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