Case against Patrick Cannon touches on Charlotte development, transit projects

rrothacker@charlotteobserver.comMarch 26, 2014 

Public-corruption charges laid out against former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon touch on some of the city’s most prominent real estate and transit projects.

An affidavit laying out the charges against Cannon even shows the mayor touting his Washington ties, telling undercover FBI agents he could use his clout with the White House to win funding for Charlotte’s controversial streetcar line.

Here are some of the projects and names outlined in the affidavit:

•  The Lynx Blue and Gold lines: Much of the affidavit centers on undercover agents posing as developers and asking Cannon for help with developments around the city’s planned mass transit lines.

The $126 million streetcar Gold Line is one of the most contentious issues in local politics. Cannon first voted against it but switched his vote after a new plan was devised that didn’t use property taxes. The city got approval to apply for a second federal grant worth $63 million in February, after failing to win a federal development grant for the streetcar last year.

In one meeting, the affidavit says, Cannon reassured an undercover agent that the city could still get federal funding. “You know I’m still in play,” he said, after the city lost out on the first federal grant. “There’s another pot of money out there that we’re looking to go after and um, some other grants we’re looking at as well. They have these community improvement grants.”

During the conversation, Cannon, according to the affidavit, agreed to help the undercover agent “time his purchase of real property on the Gold Line.”

Cannon and undercover agents also discussed development opportunities along the Blue Line extension to UNC Charlotte, according to the affidavit.

A U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday.

•  The Metropolitan: In a June 24, 2013 meeting, Cannon and an undercover officer talked about their impending meeting with foreign investors in Las Vegas. (Cannon would really be meeting with four other undercover agents posing as investors wanting to invest $25 million each for real estate development in Charlotte). Cannon agreed to lie to the investors, the affidavit says, by overstating the length of his relationship with the undercover officer.

Cannon suggested a false story: He would claim that he used his official position to help the officer get the Metropolitan development in Midtown through the city permitting process. An officer portraying a “skeptical investor” later met Cannon in the mayor’s 15th-floor office uptown on Feb. 21, the affidavit says, and Cannon pointed out the Metropolitan’s location to the skeptical investor.

Reached Wednesday night, Charlotte real estate developer Peter Pappas, whose firm built the Metropolitan, said: “The thought that they’d make up a story like that about the Metropolitan is despicable. ... This is a sad day for Charlotte.”

•  The White House: Cannon allegedly boasted to the undercover agents about an upcoming trip to Washington during a meeting in the mayor’s office. He said he would use his clout to push for Charlotte streetcar funding.

“So, you know, Friday I’m meeting with the President,” he said. “The President will be asking what my priorities are. I’m gonna say the Gold Lynx Line’s a priority and I want to see that through.”

“Damn,” the agent responded. “I’m just proud, and, uh, grateful to uh, have you as a friend.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment Wednesday, citing the ongoing investigation. But a White House official said they were unaware of the FBI investigation at the time of Cannon’s visit to the White House in December 2013.

•  Zoning, permitting: At more than one meeting, Cannon and an undercover FBI employee – in text messages and phone calls – discussed potential zoning, construction permitting and Alcoholic Beverage Control permits related to opening a nightclub or bar in Charlotte, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit states Cannon held himself out as a powerful politician who could provide access to city-county planning and zoning officials and get projects past zoning and permitting hurdles.

Paul Stroup, CEO of the Mecklenburg County ABC Board, told the Observer he introduced himself to Cannon less than four weeks ago and he was “very gracious and very busy.”

“I haven’t heard from him since or before,” Stroup said. “He didn’t ask anything from us.”

ABC permits are approved by the commission in Raleigh, Stroup said. An ABC spokesperson in Raleigh could not be immediately reached.

McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Franco Ordoñez contributed.

Rothacker: 704-358-5170

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