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State v. Falana

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 5, 2017

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
MICHAEL AYODEJI FALANA, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 17 May 2017.

         Appeal by Michael Ayodeji Falana from judgment entered 14 January 2016 by Judge Donald W. Stephens in Wake County Superior Court. No. 14 CRS 207484

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Assistant Attorney General M. Denise Stanford, for the State.

          Appellate Defender Glenn Gerding, by Assistant Appellate Defender Jillian C. Katz, for the Defendant.

          MURPHY, Judge.

         Michael Ayodeji Falana ("Defendant") appeals from the judgment below in which a jury found him guilty of felony conversion. Defendant argues that the trial court erred by denying his Motion to Dismiss because: (1) the State failed to establish an essential element of felony conversion; and (2) the State's evidence at trial fatally varied from the indictment. Defendant argues further that the trial court's jury instructions were in error because: (1) the trial judge instructed the jury on felony conversion based on the evidence presented at trial, which fatally varied from the indictment; (2) the trial court answered a question from the jury in violation of N.C. G.S. § 15A-1234(c) (2015); and (3) the trial court's supplemental instruction in response to a question from the jury was legally erroneous and resulted in a coerced verdict. We agree with Defendant that the trial court erred by denying Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, and vacate the judgment.

         Background

         In 2011, Defendant opened a business, Micdina Motors, that buys cars at live and online auctions. To carry out his business, Defendant subscribed to various online auction sites, including Copart. Copart is a marketing company that liquidates total loss vehicles through online auctions. Only members that have provided proof of licensing and paid associated fees can access and participate in Copart's auctions.

         Around 2012, Defendant permitted Mr. Olamide Olamosu ("Olamosu") to use his auction accounts for Olamosu to conduct his own business in exchange for a portion of Olamosu's sales. Defendant also permitted Olamosu to register as a licensed sales representative with Micdina Motors at the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. Although Olamosu's transactions went through Defendant's online accounts and he had access to one of Micdina Motors' email accounts, Defendant testified that Olamosu generally did not discuss his customers with Defendant in detail.

         In May or June 2013, Olamosu assisted Mr. Ezuma Igwe ("Igwe") in the acquisition of a 2012 Honda Pilot ("Pilot"), which he found using Defendant's account on the Copart auction site. The purchase price was $15, 200. When Olamosu and Igwe picked up the Pilot, it did not run. In addition, Igwe was unable to get title to the car as it was subject to a lien. Falsely identifying himself as Defendant, Olamosu arranged a refund with Copart for Igwe. Defendant disputed whether he knew the details of this purchase and subsequent need for a refund.

         In November 2013, Defendant and Olamosu began to have financial disputes over various transactions, which led Defendant to believe Olamosu owed him over $10, 000. Olamosu told Defendant that he would pay Defendant what he owed before he left the country in January 2014.

         In January 2014, Olamosu coordinated the refund with Copart, which was to be sent to Olamosu's home address. Defendant testified that Olamosu told him about the check at this time, suggesting Defendant call Copart to ensure it sent the check. On 10 January 2014, Defendant called Copart, and requested that Copart send the check to his address instead. When the check arrived, Defendant deposited it in his personal bank account. Defendant denied knowing the check was Igwe's refund. He claimed he never met Igwe, and believed the check would constitute money Defendant owed him.

         The State charged Defendant with felony conversion in violation of N.C. G.S. § 14-168.1 (2015). The indictment read in pertinent part:

that on or about January 23, 2014, in Wake County the defendant named above unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously did being entrusted with property, 2012 Honda Pilot, owned by Ezuma Igwe, as a person with power of attorney to sell or transfer the property, fraudulently convert the proceeds of the property to ...

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