Convicted of bribery: North Carolina judge exchanges cash for wife’s texts on courthouse steps, while in robes

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WILMINGTON – Wayne County Superior Court Judge Arnold Ogden Jones II was convicted of three corruption charges Friday, just weeks ahead of the November elections, of which he is up for re-election in North Carolina’s 8th Judicial District.

Following a five-day trial in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, a federal jury returned guilty verdicts on charges of paying bribes, paying gratuities and attempted corrupt influence of an official proceeding, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office Spokesman Don Connelly. The verdicts were returned within 33 minutes.

Between Oct. 10, 2015, and Nov. 3, 2015, Jones gave, offered, and promised cases of beer and $100 to a FBI Task Force Officer to influence him to compel Verizon to produce Jones wife’s text messages, and to disclose those messages to Jones, Connelly said. The task force officer reported the contact he had with Jones, and with FBI supervisory approval, a federal investigation began.

Evidence at the trial established that Jones — Wayne County’s Senior Resident Superior Court Judge who was elected in 2008 — was familiar with the processes and procedures law enforcement must undertake to obtain private text message content, including the need for the FBI to have an ongoing investigation and a legitimate law enforcement need for such text content.

“Jones desired the text messages to investigate his suspicions that his wife was having an affair,” Connelly said.

Evidence presented at trial, including multiple recorded conversations, established Jones’ desire to conceal the officer’s involvement in obtaining the texts. Jones agreed to destroy evidence of the crime, including a disk purported to contain the text messages, and text messages coordinating the exchange of cash and a disk.

The evidence concluded with “a video of Jones exchanging the cash and disk on the steps of the Wayne County courthouse in his judicial robe,” Connelly said.

“Corruption will not be tolerated, no matter the level of government, the complexity of the scheme, or the names of those committing the fraud. Rooting out public corruption is the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority and we rely on our law enforcement partners and citizens to help us identify those offenders who put our democracy at risk,” said John Strong, special agent in charge of the FBI in North Carolina.

On the bribery charge, Jones faces up to 15 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines when he is sentenced in 2017. On the charge of gratuities, he faces up to two years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. For attempting to corruptly influence an official proceeding, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Sentencing of the defendant will occur during the court’s Jan. 23, 2017 term.

“The jury’s verdict affirms a bedrock principle of the rule of law. No person holding a position of public trust in our legal system is permitted to subvert that system for his own personal objectives,” U.S.  Attorney John Stuart Bruce said.

Investigation of this case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys William M. Gilmore and Adam F. Hulbig prosecuted the case on behalf of the government.