Former Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Indicted for Voter Fraud
By Michael Gordon
A Mecklenburg County grand jury indicted former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon this week on election fraud stemming from an illegal vote Cannon cast last fall, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
At the time of his vote, Cannon had already pleaded guilty and been sentenced for accepting more than $50,000 from FBI undercover agents. He had not yet started his sentence. Cannon is serving 44 months at a federal prison camp in West Virginia.
He and his attorneys told a federal judge in November that the former mayor did not realize he was breaking the law when he voted at Ballantyne Commons.
"I did this without thinking," Cannon said. "The light didn't come on that day."
U.S. District Frank Whitney chastised Cannon for "causing further pain for our community" and placed him under house detention until he reported to Federal Correctional Institution Morgantown later that month.
He was indicted Monday, according to statement from the office of Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray. Murray's office took the case before the grand jury after the State Board of Elections turned over the results of an investigation. The office declined further comment.
Murray is a Republican; Cannon a Democrat.
Joshua Lawson, spokesman for the N.C. Board of Elections, said the agency's report on Cannon is part of an active criminal investigation and declined to release it to the Observer.
"Voter fraud is a felony, no matter who perpetrates it. We applaud the thorough work of the District Attorney's Office," Lawson said. "State Board of Elections investigators have cooperated fully with County authorities at every phase of this proceeding."
Cannon's attorney, James Ferguson of Charlotte, questioned the purpose of the indictment, given that his client already is serving a prison sentence and admitted making a mistake when he voted.
"I'm asking myself the question that many, many people will be asking," Ferguson said. "Patrick Cannon publicly acknowledged voting inadvertently, that it was a mistake on his part, a mistake he regretted very much. A federal judge who heard the case decided that the appropriate sanction was to place him under house arrest. So what is the purpose of this indictment under these circumstances?"
Cannon appeared at the polling place with his wife and signed in using his own name. Despite his arrest, conviction and sentencing, he was still listed at the time as an eligible voter on state election records. His name was removed from the eligibility list last month, Lawson said.
Cannon's vote was never counted.
Veteran defense attorneys around the city said Cannon almost certainly will receive no additional jail time, even with a conviction.
"Likely probation," said Charlotte lawyer David Rudolf. "He's guilty mostly of stupidity."
James Wyatt, another of the city's prominent trial lawyers, said the case could block Cannon's release into a federal halfway house if it's not taken care ahead of time.
Attorney George Laughrun said doesn't understand why prosecutors would go through the time and expense of charging Cannon with this type of crime.
"You've got to have intent," he said. "It's not like he tried to sneak in right before the polls closed. He wasn't wearing sunglasses and a hat." Laughrun said the indictment raises the question on whether prosecutors are "piling on."
"Obviously, he's lost his position. He's gone through public humiliation. He's a convicted felon," Laughrun said. "What's the state of North Carolina got to gain for persecuting Pat Cannon on voter fraud?"
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