By Emily Harris
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - The mayor of North Carolina's largest city was arrested on Wednesday on federal public corruption charges that include accepting more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents, a U.S. attorney's office said.
Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, 47, faces charges of theft and bribery, wire fraud and extortion, which could carry up to 50 years in prison, according to the prosecutor's office for the Western District of North Carolina.
He was released on bond after his initial court appearance, the statement said. A federal defender who appeared with him in court declined to comment.
Cannon, a Democrat, won his first term as mayor in November. The Charlotte native has a long record of public service in his hometown, where he won his first City Council seat in 1993.
City Council members said Cannon's arrest came as "a complete surprise," and they have no power under state law to remove him from office. The married father of three will remain mayor unless he resigns, or is convicted of a felony.
The FBI, acting on a tip, began an undercover investigation into Cannon's actions as an elected official in August 2010, authorities said.
Cannon, in his capacity as an elected official, is accused of soliciting and accepting bribes from federal agents posing as commercial real estate developers and investors wanting to do business in Charlotte.
Prosecutors allege that Cannon took bribes on five occasions in exchange for the use of his official position, most recently in February, when they said he accepted $20,000 in cash in the mayor's office.
Between January 2013 and February 2014, prosecutors said, Cannon accepted more than $48,000 in cash, airline tickets, a hotel room during an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas and use of a luxury apartment in Charlotte.
The FBI said he tried to characterize one of the payments as an investment in a nonexistent feminine hygiene company, and he also suggested phony real estate cover stories.
In a taped telephone conversation with undercover agents, Cannon sought to distinguish himself from officials in other cities with a history of public corruption, according to the criminal complaint.
"I'm not one of those Chicago or Detroit types ... That's not how I flow," Cannon said. In another conversation, he was heard to joke that he looked better in an orange tie than an orange suit, a reference to prison uniforms.
Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, tapped by President Barack Obama last year to lead the U.S. Transportation Department, said he had no comment on his successor's arrest.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, also a former mayor of Charlotte, said he was saddened and angry to learn of the charges against Cannon, whom he has known for more than 30 years.
"This alleged behavior is inexcusable and cannot be tolerated," the governor said in a statement.
Charlotte is the 17th largest U.S. city and hosted the 2012 Democratic party convention.
(Reporting by Emily Harris; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; editing by Gunna Dickson)