Commentary

Christensen: Jimmy Green, Patrick Cannon and the N.C. Hustle

rchristensen@newsobserver.comApril 5, 2014 

There is an obvious art to dealing with an FBI agent sting operation if you are a public official.

Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green, a shrewd ol’ country boy, could obviously smell it out better than Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, a young politician who grew up in an inner city public housing project.

Both had shady reputations when the FBI began their investigations, which is presumably why they were targeted in the first place.

Green was among the most powerful figures in North Carolina politics. He was lieutenant governor at a time, when they ran the state Senate. He was preparing to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 1984.

The FBI targeted Green as part of the broader Colcor investigation – short for Columbus County – into corruption in southeastern North Carolina.

An FBI agent named Robert Drdak, posing as a Detroit businessman named Thomas “Doc” Ryan, approached Green, saying he wanted to do export/import deals and possibly open a bar in Bolton and might need Green’s help with bureaucratic problems and perhaps a referendum to sell mixed alcoholic drinks. To gain Green’s trust, the FBI agent was introduced by a Green friend who had already been caught up in the web of investigations. The FBI agent wanted to put Green on a retainer of $10,000 per month in bribes.

In their key meeting, tape-recorded by the FBI, Green and the undercover agent had lunch at the Western Sizzler Restaurant that is now the Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant on the corner of Peace Street and Glenwood Avenue.

Another ABSCAM?

Green was interested but wary, noting that he had been approached by federal agents before.

“Are you with the business, or are you with the FBI?” Green asks, according to the transcript.

Replies the FBI agent: “We’re an investment firm. We’re with an investment firm in Detroit.”

Green asks the agent four times whether he is with the FBI.

“It could be another ABSCAM,” Green says.

“You’re paranoid,” replies the undercover agent.

ABSCAM is the 1978 FBI sting operation that served as the basis for the recent hit movie “American Hustle.”

Green was indicted but acquitted of the bribery charges by a Wake County jury, in part because one day after he took a $2,000 cashier’s check from the FBI agent, he returned it.

The Colcor investigation missed Green but ended up nabbing a whole series of other politicians including sheriffs, county commissioners and a state legislator.

The next year, Green unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor, saying he was the only candidate who had been proven honest. After losing the primary, he backed Republican Jim Martin for governor. Martin hired him as an adviser after his election.

In 1996, Green pleaded guilty to tax evasion involving a multimillion-dollar tobacco fraud scheme and was sentenced to 33 months of house arrest. He died in 2000.

‘Not how I flow’

Which brings us to Cannon, who, according to news reports, also thought about returning the money offered him by the FBI, but unlike Green did not.

In the case of Cannon, he was approached by an FBI agent posing as a business manager for a venture capital company based in Chicago in November 2010.

The agent said he was looking to start a nightclub/bar to be called “Firehouse” in uptown Charlotte and needed help from Cannon, then a Democratic city councilman, on parking issues, zoning changes and permitting requirements.

The initial exchange of money occurred at a meeting in January 2013 when an FBI agent agreed to invest $12,500 in a feminine hygiene company that Cannon said he was trying to create called HERS.

Taking place in an apartment the FBI was renting in the SouthPark section, the agent put down $12,500 on a coffee table, according to the FBI affidavit. Cannon nervously looked at the window and covered the money up with a folder. The agent then drew drapes, and Cannon held the money to his ears and fanned the bills.

The next day, Cannon called the agent and underscored that the money was a private investment, unconnected with his public duties, and offered to return it.

“I am not one of those Chicago or Detroit type folk,” Cannon said, according to the affidavit. “That’s not how I flow.”

Cannon concluded by saying that he looked good “in an orange necktie, but not an orange suit.”

But Cannon did not give back the money, according to the FBI. He accepted money on five occasions, totaling $48,000, including money on a trip to Las Vegas, according to the FBI.

Both Green and Cannon told the FBI undercover agents that they were honest men as they took the money. Green said it was really an extra-legal campaign contribution. Cannon said it was a business investment. Both were nervous that it was a sting operation. But only Green, the savvier of the two politicians, returned the bribe money.

It was enough to keep Green out of an orange jumpsuit.

Christensen: 919-829-4532; Twitter: @oldpolhack

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