Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 98-CF-1378 Honorable George Bridges Judge, Presiding
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Grometer
Defendant, Roderick R. Owens, was charged by indictment with making a false report of a vehicle theft (625 ILCS 5/4-103(a)(6) (West 1996)) and insurance fraud (720 ILCS 5/46-1 (West 1996)). A bench trial was held in the circuit court of Lake County. At the close of the State's evidence, the court directed a finding in defendant's favor on the charge of insurance fraud. Subsequently, the court found defendant guilty of making a false report of a vehicle theft. The court sentenced defendant to a 6-month term of imprisonment and a 30-month term of probation. The trial court also ordered defendant to pay $19,468 in restitution to his insurer.
On appeal, defendant argues that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of making a false report of a vehicle theft. Defendant also argues that the trial court was not authorized to order him to pay restitution. For the reasons that follow, we affirm defendant's conviction but vacate that portion of the sentence ordering defendant to pay restitution.
On June 10, 1998, defendant was indicted for making a false report of a vehicle theft (625 ILCS 5/4-103(a)(6) (West 1996)) and insurance fraud (720 ILCS 5/46-1 (West 1996)). The cause proceeded to a bench trial in which the following testimony was presented.
Officer Michael Young of the Gurnee police department testified that at approximately 3:50 p.m. on September 21, 1997, defendant reported the theft of his vehicle to the Gurnee police department. Young further testified that defendant described his car as a red 1991 Chevrolet Corvette convertible with a white top. Defendant told Young that he owned the vehicle outright and that it was insured with State Farm. Defendant also told Young that the car bore license plate number B804549. Young did not request a vehicle identification number (VIN) from defendant. However, Young testified that he was able to locate the VIN by running a computer search of the license plate number provided by defendant.
Illinois State Trooper Joseph Perez testified that he was assigned to investigate a discrepancy in the report of the theft of a 1991 red Corvette that was filed with the Gurnee police department. Perez's investigation revealed that the vehicle in question was in the possession of Robert Spurling.
Thomas Stancey testified that in April 1994 he purchased a 1991 red Chevrolet Corvette convertible from Hinsdale Motor Cars. Stancey did not recall the automobile's VIN. However, according to the bill of sale, the VIN was 1G1YY3385M5109151. Stancey financed the vehicle through LaSalle Northwest National Bank and made his last payment on the car in April 1997. However, he never received title to the vehicle. On or about May 13, 1997, Stancey placed his car with D&M Corvette Specialists (D&M), a business that sells Corvettes on consignment.
The State introduced into evidence a certificate of title for a red 1991 Chevrolet Corvette convertible. The certificate of title was in the name of Stancey and his wife, Veronica. On the reverse of the certificate was a handwritten assignment of title to a Roderick Owens dated May 29, 1997. The assignment of title was purportedly signed by Stancey and his wife. However, Stancey testified that the signatures did not belong to him or his wife and that the mileage indicated on the assignment of title (39,519) was incorrect.
David Glass of D&M testified that Robert Spurling purchased the Stancey Corvette in September 1997 for approximately $22,000. According to Glass, prior to its sale, D&M displayed the Corvette in an indoor showroom that was locked at night. Glass stated that, when Stancey brought the Corvette to D&M, he did not furnish a title for the vehicle. However, Glass, Stancey, and Spurling worked with the Secretary of State to obtain a title. Glass stated that he does not know defendant and that he never sold a car to him. On cross-examination, Glass admitted that prospective customers probably took the Corvette for a test-drive. However, he stated that a salesperson always accompanies customers on test-drives.
Robert Spurling testified that on September 10, 1997, he purchased a red Corvette convertible with a white top from D&M. Spurling did not obtain the title to the vehicle at the time of purchase. However, about one year after the purchase, he received a duplicate title to the automobile. Spurling testified that he keeps the car in the garage of his Ogle County residence, except in winter, when he stores the vehicle in his brother-in-law's barn in Tampico, Illinois.
Fred Plohm, an officer with the Secretary of State Police, testified that in 1997 Stancey initiated a complaint in reference to a missing title to his red 1991 Chevrolet Corvette. Plohm began his investigation by ordering a chain of title to the vehicle. Plohm testified that a certificate of title for the Corvette had first been issued to Geraldine Mennen. Mennen assigned the title to Hinsdale Motor Cars, Inc. Hinsdale Motor Cars assigned the title to Stancey and his wife, with a lien in favor of LaSalle Northwest National Bank. A certificate of title was issued in the name of Stancey and his wife. On the back of the certificate of title issued to the Stanceys, there was an assignment of title, dated May 29, 1997, to a Roderick Owens, 1750 N. Madison Street, Maywood, Illinois. On June 17, 1997, the Secretary of State issued a certificate of title for the vehicle in the name of Roderick Owens. Plohm testified that each of the aforementioned certificates of title were for the same vehicle and listed the same VIN.
Based on his investigation into the vehicle's chain of title, Plohm sent notices to Stancey and Owens. Stancey contacted Plohm regarding the vehicle. Plohm attempted to go to Owens' Maywood address, but discovered that it did not exist. Plohm was also unable to contact Owens at an Aurora address that he had provided on one of the title documents. Plohm then contacted D&M and Stancey and instructed them to take the Corvette to a Secretary of State facility for inspection. At the time of inspection, the vehicle's odometer read 27,988 miles. After the inspection, Plohm concluded that the vehicle bore an original, unaltered VIN tag. At the conclusion of his investigation, Plohm concluded that the Corvette belonged to the Stanceys and that Owens fraudulently obtained his certificate of title. The Secretary of State revoked Owens' certificate of title and issued a duplicate certificate in the Stanceys' name.
Steve Studzinski, Jr., a special investigator for the American Ambassador Insurance Company (American Ambassador), testified that American Ambassador issued an automobile insurance policy to defendant. On August 19, 1997, defendant added a 1991 Chevrolet Corvette to the policy. Studzinski explained that when a policyholder reports the theft of a vehicle, American Ambassador sends the policyholder a packet containing an affidavit of automobile total theft. The policyholder must complete the affidavit, have it notarized, and return it to American Ambassador before it will issue a settlement check.
Admitted into evidence was an affidavit of automobile total theft received by American Ambassador with the name of Roderick Owens listed as the policyholder. According to the affidavit, on September 21, 1997, a red 1991 Chevrolet Corvette convertible with a white top was stolen from a parking lot at the Gurnee Mills Mall. The affidavit listed the vehicle's license plate number as B804549 and its VIN as 1G1YY3385M5109151. The affidavit indicated that the vehicle had been purchased for $22,000 from Kenneth Potts of Oak Park, Illinois, on May 29, 1997. On November 13, 1997, American Ambassador issued a settlement check to Roderick Owens in the amount of $19,468. Studzinski testified that the check was cashed the following day.
On cross-examination, Studzinski testified that the affidavit of automobile total theft is blank when it is mailed to the insured and that the packet containing the affidavit would be sent to the address of the insured as it is listed on the policy. Studzinski admitted that he did not know if defendant was the individual who completed the affidavit. In addition, Studzinski acknowledged that he did not know who cashed the settlement check issued by American Ambassador.
At the close of the State's evidence, defendant moved for a directed finding with respect to both counts. The trial court denied defendant's motion with respect to the charge of making a false report of a vehicle theft but granted defendant's motion with respect to the charge of insurance fraud. The court determined that the State failed to present sufficient evidence that defendant was the individual responsible for submitting the affidavit of automobile total theft to American Ambassador or that defendant had received the settlement check.
Defendant's first witness was his mother, Geraldine Dollee. Dollee testified that in June 1997 defendant took her for a ride in a red Corvette with a white top. Dollee saw defendant in the Corvette on approximately three other occasions. Dollee stated that she did not check the vehicle's VIN and she did not recall whether the car was a convertible, whether the car carried license plates, or the type of wheels the car had.
Josie Willingham, defendant's grandmother, testified that during the summer of 1997 defendant would often come to visit her. According to Willingham, on at least a couple of occasions, she observed defendant driving a red car with a white top and a "long nose."
Defendant testified that he owned a 1991 red Chevrolet Corvette convertible before it was stolen on September 21, 1997. According to defendant, on that date, he accompanied his girlfriend and some of his girlfriend's relatives to Gurnee Mills Mall. Defendant and his girlfriend drove in a Corvette while his girlfriend's relatives drove in a Buick Century. The group arrived at the mall at about 10:30 a.m. and parked in lot B. At approximately 2 p.m., defendant went to his vehicle to drop off some packages. He then continued shopping until about 3 p.m. At that time, defendant returned to the parking lot and discovered that his vehicle was missing.
Defendant testified that he immediately reported the theft to a mall security officer. The security officer told defendant to file a police report. Accordingly, defendant's girlfriend's mother drove him to the Gurnee police department. Defendant entered the police station with his girlfriend. He spoke with Officer Young in a conference room. He provided Young with information regarding the Corvette's physical characteristics. However, ...