A former Wayne County judge has worked out a plea arrangement with federal prosecutors in which he admitted Thursday to offering a federal agent two cases of Bud Light and $100 to retrieve his wife’s text messages, in hopes the deal will result in probation instead of prison time for a felony.
Former N.C. Superior Court Judge Arnold Ogden Jones II no longer will face a second trial in federal court. Sentencing is set for the last week of April. Though it is up to the judge what the ultimate sentence will be, federal prosecutors have not protested the defense’s recommendation for probation.
The felony he pleaded to – promising and paying gratuities to a public official – could bring a two-year prison sentence or a fine of up to $250,000.
“We are appreciative that the court reviewed all matters relating to the first trial and as a result granted a new trial,” Raleigh attorney Joseph B. Cheshire V, a member of Jones’ defense team, said in a statement after the plea. “This gave both sides a chance to come to a resolution to this very difficult case. We look forward to this matter being over for Judge Jones and his family.”
Jones, who lost his bid for re-election in November, was awaiting a second trial after U.S. District Judge Terence Boyle vacated a jury’s verdict from an October trial.
The jury convicted Jones 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.
Jones was accused in 2015 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.
Jones, according to court documents in the case, wanted the texts because he questioned his wife’s fidelity to him and wanted to review exchanges between her phone and the man with whom he suspected her to be involved.
The FBI can obtain such records only with a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge based on suspicion of criminal activity.
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 the judge agreeing to give Miller $100 instead of the beer and a “SWAT-team-like raid” at the judge’s Wayne County home in November 2015. Jones was 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, was the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission chairman at the time of his arrest, and the defense team has contended he was led along by the deputy, in part, because of Jones’ position on the commission that helps free inmates wrongfully convicted of crimes.
In its effort to win the second trial, the defense team included those allegations and pointed out that they were prohibited from introducing evidence about allegations of misconduct with the deputy, previous incidents that have led to what they described as “a long internal rap sheet” of misconduct allegations while on the beat.
Jones, according to prosecutors, agreed to destroy evidence of the crime, including a disk purported to contain the text messages as well as text messages coordinating the exchange of cash for the disk. Evidence also included a video of Jones exchanging the cash for the disk on the steps of the Wayne County Courthouse while wearing his judicial robe.
No text messages were ever delivered to Jones.