Superior Court Judge Arnold Ogden Jones II has been charged with trying to bribe an FBI agent with beer and cash to obtain copies of text messages involving members of his family.
Jones, the senior resident Superior Court judge in a judicial district that includes Wayne, Lenoir and Greene counties, is accused of texting the agent on Oct. 10, trying to get copies of text messages exchanged between two numbers. The FBI can only obtain those records with a warrant approved by a federal magistrate judge on suspicion of criminal activity.
According to the indictment, the judge told the agent the messages were “just for (him)” and “involve(d) family members.”
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On Oct. 19, the FBI agent told the judge there wasn’t the legally required probable cause to get the texts, but said he would continue to try if the judge desired.
The indictment outlining the three counts states that the judge said: “I want down low – see what you can do without drawing attention. … This involves family so I don’t want anybody to know.”
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury on Tuesday, does not list which family members were involved nor include the phone numbers.
The FBI agent and judge met in a car on Oct. 27, according to the indictment, where they discussed a fee for the information. Jones reportedly offered the agent “a couple of cases of beer” for helping him get the information.
On Monday, the federal agent informed the judge he had the information on a disk. In addition to agreeing to shred the disk so it could not be traced back to the agent’s computer, the judge reportedly told the agent he had “his paycheck.”
During that time, the indictment states, the judge agreed to give the agent $100 instead of beer. The two met on Tuesday in Goldsboro, and the judge handed over $100 in cash, according to the indictment.
Jones is accused of promising and 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, a registered Democrat who was elected to an eight-year term on the Superior Court bench in 2008, is the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission chairman. The commission was created by the General Assembly in 2006 and began operating in 2007. Since then, the commission has reviewed hundreds of innocence claims and conducted multiple hearings, some of which have resulted in the freeing of inmates wrongfully convicted of murder.
A spokeswoman for the commission said late Wednesday that there were no plans at that time to issue a comment on Jones.
Jones appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge on Wednesday morning. During the brief hearing, the federal judge asked Jones if he understood the charges, then released him with the understanding he would appear in court for further hearings.
Efforts to reach Jones on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
When a judge in North Carolina is accused of behavior that violates the N.C. Code of Judicial Conduct, the matter is weighed by a 13-member N.C. Judicial Standards Commission – which includes an N.C. Court of Appeals judge, two Superior Court judges and two district judges.
Jones’ status on the bench was unclear Wednesday.
Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed.