A federal judge has delayed the sentencing of a former Wayne County Superior Court judge convicted of trying to bribe a federal agent with two cases of Bud Light.
Arnold O. Jones II, a judge for eight years who lost his bid for re-election in November, was convicted in October of three felonies – paying a bribe to a public official, promising and paying a gratuity to a public official, and corruptly attempting to influence an official proceeding.
He was to be sentenced in federal court this week, but his sentencing hearing has been rescheduled for March 27 in Wilmington.
Jones was accused of texting a Wayne County deputy, who also is a member of an FBI gang task force, to get copies of text messages that were exchanged between two other numbers.
The FBI can only obtain such records with a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge based on suspicion of criminal activity.
According to a federal indictment issued in 2015, the judge told the agent the messages were “just for (him)” and “involve(d) family members.” The texts were from phones that belonged to the judge’s wife and another man.
“Shortly after marrying his wife, he began having concerns about her fidelity,” the defense team stated in court documents leading up to the trial. “Jones asked a sheriff’s deputy who he wrongly believed to be a friend whether the deputy could access his wife’s text messages. The deputy said yes when he should have just said no.”
The defense contended that Jones was never told by Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Miller that what the judge had asked for would require a search warrant. Instead, the defense has said, the deputy proceeded with an operation that led to a “SWAT-team-like raid” at the judge’s Wayne County home in November 2016 and resulted in Jones being arrested at gunpoint, driven to Raleigh and led into a federal courtroom in shackles for his first hearing in the criminal case.
Jones, a registered Democrat who was elected to an eight-year term on the Superior Court bench in 2008, was the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission chairman at the time of his arrest. The commission, created by the General Assembly in 2006, has reviewed hundreds of innocence claims and conducted multiple hearings, some of which have resulted in the freeing of inmates wrongfully convicted of murder.
The defense team has contended Jones was led along by the deputy, in part, because of Jones’ position on the commission, too.
The indictment outlines what the deputy contends happened after Jones asked about the texts.
On Oct. 19, 2015, the deputy told the judge there wasn’t the legally required probable cause to get the messages, but said he would continue to try if that was what Jones wanted.
“I want down low – see what you can do without drawing attention,” Jones said, according to the indictment. “This involves family so I don’t want anybody to know.”
The deputy and judge met in a car on Oct. 27, 2015, according to the indictment, and Jones reportedly offered the agent “a couple of cases of beer” for helping him get the information.
Several days later, the deputy told the judge he had the information on a disk, though the disk was blank, the defense team has said. In addition to agreeing to shred the disk so it could not be traced back to the deputy’s computer, the judge reportedly told Miller he had “his paycheck.”
During that time, the indictment states, Jones agreed to give Miller $100 instead of the two cases of Bud Light that initially had been offered. The two met in Goldsboro, and the judge handed over $100 in cash, according to the indictment.
Shortly after a jury convicted Jones in a Wilmington courtroom, the former judge’s defense team sought to have the verdict vacated and a new trial granted.
In a court document seeking a new trial, Jones’ attorneys contended that the former judge was deprived of his right to confront witnesses and challenge the government’s proof because he was prohibited from cross-examining Miller “on his bias and motives.”
The attorneys argued that Jones was barred from asking Miller about “numerous internal affairs complaints” he faced “for serious mistreatment of citizens.”
The defense was unable to ask Miller about a federal civil rights lawsuit pending against him, as well as about several high-profile rulings the judge was involved with that were unfavorable to Miller.
“Each of these events individually establish bias and motive on the part of Deputy Miller to favor the prosecution and otherwise skew the investigation,” the defense argued in its request for a new trial. “Due to these restrictions on cross-examination, the jury was left with the impression that Deputy Miller had no bias against Mr. Jones nor any motive to ensure that Mr. Jones was charged with offenses.”
If the jury “had been exposed to the true facts,” the defense continued, “it likely would have inferred the opposite – …. that Deputy Miller had numerous, substantial reasons to attempt to skew the investigation to ensure that it resulted in charges being brought against Mr. Jones.”
Federal prosecutors have opposed the request for a new trial but consented to the delayed sentencing. U.S. District Judge James C. Fox granted the new sentencing hearing earlier this month.