A former Wayne County judge will be on probation for two years after offering a federal agent two cases of Bud Light and $100 to retrieve his wife’s text messages without the necessary search warrant.
Former N.C. Superior Court Judge Arnold Ogden Jones II was sentenced in federal court on Wednesday as part of a plea arrangement worked out with federal prosecutors earlier this year.
Jones also was fined $5,000 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.
The sentencing hearing in Elizabeth City in front of U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle followed a court proceeding in March in which Jones agreed to a plea arrangement with prosecutors. Though he was accused of attempting to bribe a federal agent, Jones pleaded guilty to promising and paying gratuities to a public official.
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“We are relieved that this ordeal is finally over,” said Joseph B. Cheshire V, a Raleigh-based lawyer who was part of the defense team. “We are appreciative for the fair and considered sentence of the court that allows Arnie to return to the community he loves and continue his road to redemption and service.”
Jones, who lost his bid for re-election in November, avoided a second trial through the plea and sentencing.
In October, a 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. But Boyle, who was not the judge at the October trial, vacated the jury’s verdict.
Jones was accused of asking a Wayne County deputy, who also was a member of an FBI gang task force, to get copies of text messages that were exchanged between two numbers.
Jones, according to court documents in the case, wanted the texts because he thought his wife was having an extramarital affair and wanted to review text exchanges between her phone and that of 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 arguments and noted that they were prohibited from introducing evidence about allegations of previous misconduct by the deputy, incidents that led to what they described as “a long internal rap sheet.”
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.