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USA v. Okomba

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

September 6, 2019

USA
v.
JACQUELINE DIANNE OKOMBA LAURENCE SESSUM

          ORDER

          ROBERT J. CONRAD, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon the defendants' post-verdict Motions for a Judgment of Acquittal, or in the alternative for a New Trial, [1] (Doc. Nos. 71, 72), and the government's response in opposition, (Doc. No. 74).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The defendants proceeded to jury trial on offenses related to an alleged fraudulent debt collection conspiracy.[2] (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).

         The jury found Defendant Sessum guilty of all four counts. (Doc. No. 66: Sessum Verdict).

         II. DISCUSSION

         The 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).

         A. Count One

         1. Jury Instruction

         The 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).

         The 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.[3] (Doc. No. 74: Response at 6-7). Additionally, the pattern jury instructions of several circuits provide for the type of instruction given here.[4]

         Therefore, a new trial is not required in the interest of justice based on the Court's answer to the jury's question.

         2. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Defendant 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 ...


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