USA v. Billy Owen
Per Curiam OPINION filed : we AFFIRM Owens's conviction, VACATE the district court's restitution order and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion. Decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 206. Danny J. Boggs and R. Guy Cole , Jr., Circuit Judges; Solomon Oliver , Jr., Chief District Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 12a0626n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Jun 15, 2012
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR
THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF
Before: BOGGS and COLE, Circuit Judges; OLIVER, Chief District Judge.*
PER CURIAM. Billy Owens appeals his conviction for conspiring to alter, remove, and
obliterate vehicle identification numbers as well as the district court’s restitution order. We affirm
Owens’s conviction, vacate the restitution order, and remand for further proceedings consistent with
In 2009, a federal grand jury charged Owens and eleven other defendants with conspiring to
alter, remove, and obliterate vehicle information numbers (“VINs”) in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371
and 511. Following a bench trial in which three co-defendants testified against Owens, the district
court found him guilty. The district court sentenced Owens to three years of probation, including
180 days of home confinement, and ordered him to pay restitution jointly and severally with his co-
The Honorable Solomon Oliver, Jr., Chief United States District Judge for the Northern
District of Ohio, sitting by designation.
-2defendants in the amount of $70,000. Owens timely appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the
evidence to support his conviction and the restitution order.
“When a defendant challenges his conviction after a bench trial based on insufficiency of the
evidence, we must determine whether after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond
a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Bronzino, 598 F.3d 276, 278 (6th Cir. 2010) (citation and
quotation marks omitted); see also Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). In reviewing the
sufficiency of the evidence, we do not weigh the evidence, assess the credibility of the witnesses, or
substitute our judgment for that of the trier of fact, but instead draw all reasonable inferences in
support of the verdict. United States v. Paige, 470 F.3d 603, 608 (6th Cir. 2006).
To convict Owens of the charged conspiracy, the government was required to prove: (1) that
two or more persons conspired to alter, remove, and obliterate VINs; (2) that Owens willfully joined
the conspiracy; (3) that one or more co-conspirators did at least one of the overt acts described in the
indictment; and (4) that the overt act was done in furtherance of the conspiracy. See United States
v. Fisher, 648 F.3d 442, 447 (6th Cir. 2011) (setting forth elements of conspiracy charge). “[P]roof
of a formal agreement is not necessary; a tacit or material understanding among the parties will
suffice.” United States v. Martinez, 430 F.3d 317, 330 (6th Cir. 2005) (citation and quotation marks
Here, the government produced evidence that Owens, the owner of a junkyard, provided
VINs to James Wallace, who then used the VINs to “retag” stolen vehicles. Co-conspirators David
Jones and William Jablonski testified that they assisted Wallace in stealing vehicles. Wallace would
then replace the stolen vehicle’s VIN with the VIN from a wrecked vehicle. Jones and Jablonski
testified that they accompanied Wallace to Owens’s junkyard to obtain VINs on multiple occasions.
-3According to Wallace, he informed Owens that the VINs that he obtained from him were to be used
for stolen property. Wallace further testified that Owens purchased a stolen and retagged tow truck
from him in exchange for three VINs and approximately $1400. This testimony presented by the
government was sufficient for the district court to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Owens
was guilty of the charged conspiracy.
Owens contends that there was insufficient evidence to support the conspiracy conviction
based on the district court’s remark in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal that “the proof
of alteration, obliteration, removal of vehicle identification numbers is thin and probably not
adequate to support a substantive charge of doing that activity.” But as the district court pointed out:
“This is a charge of conspiracy, it’s not a charge of altering, removing, obliterating vehicle
identification numbers . . . .” See United States v. Fife, 573 F.2d 369, 373 (6th Cir. 1976) (“The
commission of a substantive offense and a conspiracy to commit it are separate and distinct
crimes . . . .”). “The essence of a conspiracy is the agreement to commit the offense and not the
commission of the substantive offense.” United States v. Hughes, 505 F.3d 578, 588 (6th Cir. 2007).
There was sufficient evidence of such an agreement in this case.
Owens also argues that the district court erred by reserving decision on his motion for
judgment of acquittal made at the conclusion of the government’s case. See United States v.
Reifsteck, 841 F.2d 701, 703 (6th Cir. 1988). The district court’s error was harmless because, as
discussed above, the evidence presented by the government was sufficient to support Owens’s
conviction. See id.
Because Owens did not object to the district court’s restitution order at sentencing, we review
for plain error. United States v. Reaume, 338 F.3d 577, 585 (6th Cir. 2003). The government
concedes that the district court’s restitution order must be vacated because the order failed to comply
-4with the procedural requirements of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”). The MVRA
requires the district court to “order the probation officer to obtain and include in its presentence
report . . . information sufficient to exercise its discretion in fashioning a restitution order,” including
“a complete accounting of the losses to each victim.” 18 U.S.C. § 3664(a). The government bears
the burden of demonstrating the amount of victim loss and, upon the probation officer’s request,
must provide a listing of the amounts subject to restitution. Id. § 3664(d)(1), (e). Owens’s
presentence report stated that victim information had not been received, yet recommended restitution
in the amount of $70,000. The district court ordered restitution based upon that recommendation,
noting that the government was to provide the names and addresses of the payees. Because the
district court plainly erred by entering the restitution order without any victim information, in
violation of the MVRA’s requirements, we vacate the restitution order and remand the case to allow
the government to provide the probation office and the district court with the necessary information.
The district court is directed to enter any restitution order within ninety days of our mandate. See
18 U.S.C. § 3664(d)(5); United States v. Reano, 298 F.3d 1208, 1212-13 (10th Cir. 2002).
For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM Owens’s conviction, VACATE the district court’s
restitution order, and REMAND for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
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