LUMBERTON — Two years ago, at the Robeson County jail, Erich Hackney looked into the eyes of a man who had been promised freedom — and $685,000 — in exchange for killing him.
On Thursday, the investigator for the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office and Lumberton councilman watched as the man who once ordered him dead confessed to that crime, along with others Hackney had uncovered that left him the target of a vengeful plot.
Ronnie Wayne Jones, of 4832 Cabinet Shop Road, Rowland, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Frank Floyd to more than 12 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit first-degree murder and resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer — a crime committed in 2010 while he was awaiting trial on charges of financial fraud.
According to Hackney, Jones had told a fellow inmate that he would post his $50,000 bail and pay him for Hackney’s life. Hackney said Jones drew the prisoner a map leading him to where a rifle and the $685,000 was stashed.
The prisoner sent a letter to the District Attorney’s Office, saying that he wanted to talk. Hackney chose to go along to the meeting and took notes.
“During the discussion, it became apparent very quickly that the individual Ronnie Jones wanted him to kill was in the room at the time,” Hackney said.
“He said that he wanted him to kill someone named Erich, and he looked at me and said, ‘You’re Erich, aren’t you? I can tell by how he described you.’”
It was the first time the investigator had ever found himself an intended victim.
“I don’t even know how to describe how I felt at that period in time,” he said. “It was beyond shock. I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years and nobody’s put a hit out on me before.”
Jones was charged with the crime following an investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation, which found that he had planned for three months to have Hackney killed. According to Hackney, Jones’ intended agreement was just another example of how the smooth-talking con artist was able to get anyone to do his bidding.
“I’m not the worst victim in the case,” Hackney said. “The folks who he took the money from, the sad part of it is they’ll never see that money back. He really ruined some lives.”
Hackney’s investigation, which began in 2008, found that Jones had netted more than $1 million from people across the Southeast to whom he had promised large returns from federal and state housing and highway contracts. On Thursday, he also pleaded guilty to obtaining property by false pretense and conspiracy to commit the offense of obtaining property by false pretense.
Hackney said that Jones had a way of talking that would persuade complete strangers to fork over thousands of dollars.
“He preyed on people who thought they could get a huge return for a small investment,” he said.
In one case, Hackney said Jones approached a man who had stopped to buy coffee at a Pembroke service station and told him he had just won a contract for a highway project, but needed several trucks to get the job done. He promised the man that if he went in with him in the expenses, that they would split the profits.
When Jones left the station, he was $40,000 richer.
Jones and his partner, Michael Hunt, whom Hackney said is awaiting trial for obtaining property by false pretenses and conspiracy after being captured in Atlanta, would “tag team” people, often armed with official-looking paperwork that they would have “investors” sign in front of a notary.
Jones’ wife, Michelle, faces the same charges as Hunt, Hackney said.
Jones has convictions dating back to 2000 that include larceny, conspiracy, obtaining property by false pretense, embezzlement, and cashing a worthless check, according to the Department of Correction.
Hackney said that listening to Jones confess on Thursday was “unusual.”
“It was very different from what I do in court. It’s very different when you’re the victim. … In this line of work, you never know what people may do and what they are capable of, but it’s not something you can dwell on,” he said.
Abbi Overfelt works for Civitas Media as editor of The Red Springs Citizen and The St. Pauls Review.