Stephanie Barnes has filed a motion to temporarily halt her trial on corruption charges, saying key witnesses she planned to call in her defense have left island for the holidays, and others have failed to show after the government deterred them from testifying.
“After leaving the Court the evening of December 20, 2021, Defendant and defense counsel attempted to call the witnesses identified on Defendant’s exhibit list. Defendant discovered that one of the Defendant’s witnesses had left the island on December 18, 2021, to return December 25, 2021, and sent an email to the undersigned to that effect,” according to the motion filed Monday by Barnes attorney Martial Webster.
“Another of Defendant’s witnesses is also off island scheduled to return December 28, 2021. Defendant attempted to call the other witnesses, many of whom has refused to answer or call back. After speaking to one witness, Defendant learned that agents of the Government had contacted the witness and deterred the witness from testifying favorably on Defendant’s behalf,” according to the motion.
Barnes was indicted in July 2019 along with then head of the Casino Control Commission Violet Anne Golden on charges of embezzling almost $300,000 from the agency that regulates casino gaming in the USVI. Golden had hired Barnes in 2015 to run a program for problem gamblers.
The spending irregularities came to light during an audit of the Casino Control Commission by the V.I. Inspector General’s Office, with a report on the findings released in 2018.
Barnes is charged with conspiracy to commit theft from programs receiving government funds, conversion of government property, receipt of government property, fraudulent claims upon the government, and filing a false tax return. She has pleaded not guilty and has been free on a cash bond pending the outcome of her trial.
Golden pleaded guilty and, in August 2020, was sentenced to 24 months in jail for federal program fraud and one year for failing to file income taxes on an annual salary of $105,000. She was released on Sept. 25 from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, and last week testified against Barnes.
Barnes testified in her own defense Tuesday at her trial in District Court on St. Croix after none of the people on her witness list showed up. Unless the judge rules on her motion, closing arguments in the trial that began Dec. 6 could come as early as Wednesday.
According to her motion, Barnes had been relying on certified public accountant Claudette Anderson, her accountant since 2007, to testify. However, the court “summarily struck Ms. Anderson as a witness for the Defendant claiming that Ms. Anderson will be providing expert testimony which will usurp the province of the jury …”
In addition to issues with her witnesses, Barnes alleges that a “document dump” from the government less than 30 days before her trial started made it impossible to properly prepare.
“Less than thirty days before the trial began, the Government dumped approximately 90,000 pages of discovery on the Defendant. Defendant filed a motion to continue the trial, in which the Government did not object. The Court summarily denied the motion even after Defendant fully explained she cannot be ready for trial under these COVID-19 conditions, and especially with the large number of pages in the recent discovery dump by the Government, and in addition to a subpoena filed on Defendant by the Government on October 28, 2021,” the motion states.
Barnes also alleges that she was taken by surprise as the prosecution wrapped up its case on Monday.
“Jury selection and trial began on December 6, 2021. On most days, Court ended at 6:00 p.m. except for two days of the trial. The Government closed its case-in-chief on Monday December 20, 2021, at approximately 4:00 p.m. The Court expected Defendant to call a witness immediately after the Government closed its case-in-chief. However, the Court never asked the prosecution who was its last witness, neither did the prosecution, as a matter of courtesy, announce that it will be calling its last witness,” the motion states.
“The Court asked the defense if the defense had a witness to call at that time, and the defense responded that she was not made aware the Government was calling its last witness. The Court then exploded in a tirade against defense counsel accusing defense counsel of using ‘tactics’ or something to that effect. The Court knew from the beginning that Defendant was not ready for trial based on the record in the case,” according to the motion.
“Defendant’s right to compulsory process has been denied by the absence of two crucial witnesses, and obstruction of the Defendant’s witnesses by the Government. Additionally, Defendant has requested transcript excerpts from the trial in anticipation of filing a motion for mistrial,” the motion states.
Continuing the trial until after the Christmas break would allow the two witnesses to return to St. Croix and Barnes the opportunity to “attempt to rehabilitate her witnesses that were contacted by the prosecution team,” the motion concludes.
The motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller. An order had not been filed in the court docket as of Wednesday morning.