Ex-SBI agent: Greed, power at heart of public corruption cases
Posted March 27, 2014
Updated March 28, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon is the only latest in a string of North Carolina leaders accused of betraying their public office.
Cannon, 47, resigned Wednesday night, hours after he was arrested and charged with taking more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen who wanted to do work with Charlotte.
The Democrat, who was elected last November, 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.
"There's no right way to do the wrong thing," investigative consultant Randy Myers said Thursday.
Myers, who spent 25 years at the State Bureau of Investigation, where he worked public corruption cases against former House Speaker Jim Black and former state Rep. Thomas Wright, said he was impressed by the FBI's undercover and surveillance work in the Cannon case.
"The resources that they, the FBI and the government, brought to bear were quite considerable," Myers said.
The FBI rented a Charlotte apartment for undercover agents to use for meetings with Cannon, taped encounters and phone calls and even had agents meet him in Las Vegas to discuss planning, zoning and permitting issues for a proposed nightclub, according to the criminal complaint.
Myers was lead investigator in the state's 2007 case against Black. Prosecutors say the former speaker bribed Rep. Michael Decker to switch parties, which enabled Black to hold on to a share of his power in an evenly divided House.
"They're fascinating cases, but on the other hand, they're very disheartening, disillusioning, what you find out. You expect better from our leaders," Myers said. "We have to hold them accountable to make sure they do the right thing. They need to be watched. They need to be scrutinized."
He points out that the public has heard only one side of the case so far. Cannon hasn't commented and deserves his day in court, he said.
Still, Myers said he sees similarities in all public corruption cases.
"There's always a motive – why are they going to do this? Something pushes them over the edge. Sometimes it's greed, money, power," he said.
According to the complaint, FBI agents posing as commercial real estate developers paid Cannon on five separate occasions between January 2013 and February 2014, including once in the mayor's office. Cannon accepted cash in exchange for access to city officials.
While working with the undercover agents, Cannon also touted his close relationship with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who served as Charlotte mayor for 14 years, and a trip to the White House to meet with President Barack Obama and other administration officials, according to the complaint.
McCrory, who has known Cannon's family for more than 30 years, said Thursday that he was deeply hurt by the allegations of corruption.
"The wound is still fresh," he said. "There's a personal wound that's going to take a lot of time to recover, but my relationship to the city is the relationship I care about most."
Charlotte officials are now scrambling to find a new mayor.