Monday, September 26, 2022

US Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission Member Guilty of Embezzlement

15 days after making her first appearance in court, Stephanie Barnes was found guilty by a jury on embezzlement charges. Barnes was once a member of the US Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission and, during her time with the entity, colluded with its former commissioner to embezzle over $800,000. Barnes faces a maximum sentence of eight years in federal prison.

Slam-Dunk Case For the Jury

Barnes was convicted by the jury after just six hours of deliberation. She had been charged by the federal government with conspiracy to steal from programs, receiving federal funds in contravention of US laws, receipt of stolen government money, filing false tax returns in violation of Virgin Islands law, and receiving federal funds in violations of US Law.

Evidence proved that Barnes colluded with Violet Anne Golden, former VI Casino Control Commission Chair, in a scheme to steal federal and local money, as well as file a false tax return. Evidence revealed that Barnes received a $65,000 contract between April and June 2015. However, it is not clear for what purpose the contract was. Evidence also revealed that Barnes received $568,104 in total, including more than $113,000 in travel, perks and vehicle expenses.

Jill Koster, the lead prosecutor in the case, stated that Barnes knew “what was in Golden’s wallet” during opening statements. This was referring to the hundreds and thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds that were said to have been spent at the time of the crimes.

The jury agreed. After it handed down its ruling, Barnes turned herself in. Sentencing is scheduled for April 20 of next year.

Denial at the Trial

Martial Webster was Barnes’s attorney and went after the government in his opening statements. He called the government’s charges “propaganda” and stated that the Office of the Inspector General, headed by Marsha Dubois, in an audit of the Casino Control Commission, created a report that “reads like a soap opera.” The audit played a key role in the outcome of the trial.

The defense tried to portray a picture of Barnes as unaware of the way the Casino Control Commission was spending the funds. Instead, Golden was solely responsible for the misused government funds.

The defense’s argument was weakened when Golden appeared on the stand on December 13. Koster asked her several times whether she felt her actions in connection to fraudulent spending and Barnes’s contract terms were appropriate. When Koster asked, “Who has benefited?” Golden replied, “Ms. Barnes.”

Golden maintained that she had complied with Barnes’s requests throughout the questioning. In cross-examination, Webster stated to Golden that “anytime someone makes an inquiry, you know you can say ‘No.’”

Golden replied that she has had to pay the price for not complying. Golden later admitted that she realized that the demands were not always appropriate.

The case is now a wrap, and Barnes can only wait to reappear to determine what happens next. Last year, Golden was sentenced to 24 months in prison for her role. However, she entered a guilty plea and cut a deal. Barnes may end up serving more time.

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