United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court upon the defendants'
post-verdict Motions for a Judgment of Acquittal, or in the
alternative for a New Trial,  (Doc. Nos. 71, 72), and the
government's response in opposition, (Doc. No. 74).
defendants proceeded to jury trial on offenses related to an
alleged fraudulent debt collection conspiracy. (Doc. No. 3:
Indictment). At the close of the government's proof, the
Court denied each defendant's motion for judgment of
acquittal under Rule 29(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure. The defendants elected not to present any
evidence. The jury found Defendant Okomba guilty of
conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§ 1349 (Count One) and obstruction of justice in
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519 (Count Four), but not
guilty of substantive wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1343
(Count Two) and conspiracy to commit transactional and
concealment money laundering under 18 U.S.C. §§
1956(h), 1956(a)(1)(B)(i), and 1957 (Count Three). (Doc. No.
65: Okomba Verdict).
jury found Defendant Sessum guilty of all four counts. (Doc.
No. 66: Sessum Verdict).
instant motions seek judgments of acquittal under Rule
29(b)(C), or, in the alternative, new trials under Rule 33.
Under Rule 29, a guilty verdict must be sustained “if,
viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prosecution, the verdict is supported by substantial
evidence, ” that is, evidence which a reasonable finder
of fact could accept as adequate to support the
defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. United
States v. Burfoot, 899 F.3d 326, 334 (4th Cir. 2018).
Under Rule 33, a new trial can be ordered if required in the
interest of justice, but “a jury verdict is not to be
overturned except in the rare circumstance where the evidence
weighs heavily against it.” Id. at 340
(internal quotation marks omitted).
defendants chiefly argue that the Court erroneously
instructed the jury in response to the question, “Are
email communications considered wire communications?”
(Doc. No. 71: Okomba Motion at 5-24; Doc. No. 71-4, Okomba
Motion Exhibit 2: Trial Tr. excerpt at 13; Doc. No. 72:
Sessum Motion at 2;). The government responds that the
Court's answer, “Yes, ” was an accurate
statement of the law. (Doc. No. 74: Response at 5-7).
defendants rely on the definitions of terms “as used in
[Chapter 119]” on “wire and electronic
communications interception and interception of oral
communications, ” 18 U.S.C. § 2510, to conclude
that only “aural transfer” of the human voice is
included in “wire communication.” (Doc. No. 71:
Okomba Motion at 16-18; Doc. No. 72: Sessum Motion at 2). The
government rightly shows the fallacy of that position by
listing several cases affirming wire fraud convictions under
Chapter 63 involving the use of e-mail, none of which relied
on aural transfer of the human voice. (Doc. No. 74: Response at
6-7). Additionally, the pattern jury instructions of several
circuits provide for the type of instruction given
a new trial is not required in the interest of justice based
on the Court's answer to the jury's question.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Okomba claims that she would not have convicted of conspiracy
to commit wire fraud (Count One) but for the Court's
answer to the jury question about e-mail as wire
communication. (Doc. No. 71 at 2, 9). Because the Court finds
that instruction was proper, and the Court previously found
at the close of the government's case-in-chief that the
evidence was sufficient to establish her ...