CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon pleaded guilty Tuesday to a public corruption charge, ending a remarkable rise for a man raised by a single mother in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
Cannon's guilty plea was on a single count of honest services wire fraud, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. An FBI sting recorded him accepting thousands of dollars in cash and airline tickets from undercover agents posing as businessmen, according to court documents.
"Yes, sir, your honor, I am," Cannon, 47, 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.
At a news conference following Cannon's guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins said their investigation is far from over.
"We need to determine whether this bribery scandal was only Cannon deep and Cannon wide or if it extended beyond the mayor's office,” she said. "We are working tirelessly to follow every lead to sift through all of the evidence and get to the bottom of any wrongdoing."
Tompkins and John Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI in Charlotte, declined to give any hints about who might also be under investigation.
Tony Scheer, a former prosecutor who has represented clients in state and federal court says as mayor and City Council member Cannon would have talked with many business people and city officials about projects on the table.
The key is whether Cannon took money from someone or passed it on to others.
"If they can make cases against individuals -- businessmen or otherwise -- who were bribing the mayor or other city officials, they'll be prosecuted," Scheer said.
TIMELINE: Patrick Cannon 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 was arrested March 26. The Democrat resigned the same day, less than six months after taking office. 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.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory reacted to Cannon's guilty plea Tuesday.
"Well it breaks my heart that he did such a thing and breaks my heart for the city I love and breaks my heart for an individual. I cared a great deal about," McCrory said.
One new allegation Channel 9 found in the paperwork says Cannon offered to help a strip club owner, in exchange for $2,000.
The city demolished Twin Peaks on North Tryon Street and University City Boulevard. It was in the path of the proposed Blue Line extension for the Lynx Light Rail.
Documents say Cannon offered to help the owner obtain zoning approval to re-open the club.
Investigators say Cannon accepted payments and offered to set up meetings between city workers and the club owner.
City council gave approval last year for the strip club to re-open, but it has not.
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 Obama. Cannon also started his own company that manages 25,000 parking spaces, most of them in the city's central business district.
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 also is accused of soliciting up to $1 million more in bribes from the undercover agents.
Dan Clodfelter was sworn in to office in April, replacing Cannon.
Mayor pro tem responds to being named in Cannon documents
Some city leaders were written about in the documents outlining former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon's scheme to use his office to get rich.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Barnes was one of the people mentioned.
He released a statement to the Charlotte Observer saying he wanted to clarify what he did and did not do.
Federal documents said Cannon solicited Barnes' support to help the owner of Twin Peeks strip club keep his business open.
It sat in the way of the Blue Line Extension light rail project.
Federal documents said Cannon took $2,000 from the owner for his work to save the club from demolition.
Barnes said he spoke to Cannon about the project.
In a statement, Barnes said it’s not unusual to hear from concerned business owners when projects affect them and he works with city staff to solve those problems.
He said he did that for Twin Peeks and his work ended there.
“My conduct was consistent with what I believe almost all elected officials strive to do for their constituents. Whether it has been a concern about a neighbor's tall grass, a broken street light, a pothole or in this case, the light rail's impact on businesses, since 2005 I have always made an effort to lawfully assist people when I can," the statement reads.
Check back with wsoctv.com for updates throughout the day on this developing story.