Former superior court judge takes plea after federal bribery, corruption charges vacated for new trial

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RALEIGH — Former North Carolina Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones II has pleaded guilty to promising payment to an FBI Task Force Officer in exchange for his wife’s text messages. This after earlier convictions on paying bribes, paying gratuities and attempting to corrupt an official proceeding were vacated.

U.S. Attorney John Stuart Bruce recently announced the guilty plea this week. Jones’ plea took place before U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle in Raleigh on March 16, three weeks after Boyle signed an order granting a motion for a new trial in the case against Jones.

In October 2016, Jones was convicted by a federal jury on charges of paying bribes, paying gratuities and attempted corrupt influence of an official proceeding after a five-day trial in U.S. District Court in Wilmington.

Since the judge granted the defense team’s motion for a new trial in the case on Feb. 23, those convictions were vacated, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office Spokesman Don Connelly. The government had a choice to either pursue a new trial, or a plea agreement in this case.

Jones pleaded guilty to a charge of promising and paying gratuities to a public official. The charge stems from an incident that spanned between Oct. 10, 2015 and Nov. 3, 2015.

The evidence showed that Jones gave, offered, and promised cases of beer and $100 to a FBI Task Force Officer to influence him to compel Verizon Wireless to turn over text messages from Jones’ wife’s phone, even though Jones was not permitted to receive them by law, Connelly said. At the time, Jones was a Wayne County’s Senior Resident Superior Court Judge, elected in 2008.

The task force officer reported the contact he had with Jones to supervisors, triggering a federal investigation.

The evidence established that Jones 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. “Multiple recorded conversations established Jones’ desire to conceal the FBI Task Force Officer’s involvement in obtaining the texts.”

Video evidence presented in the case also showed Jones, on the steps of the Wayne County Courthouse and in his judicial robe, exchanging cash for a disk that was purported to contain his wife’s text messages and the text messages coordinating the crime.

No text messages were obtained or delivered to Jones, Connelly said.

After pleading guilty, Jones faces no more than 2 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines on the charge of promise payment of gratuities to a public official. The sentencing hearing is tentatively set for the court’s term on April 24, 2017. The time, date, and location has yet to be determined.