The former Casino Control Commission consultant convicted in December of stealing from the government is seeking an acquittal or a new trial, claiming she was an unwitting victim of her boss’s profligate spending.
Stephanie Barnes was found guilty by a jury on Dec. 23 in V.I. District Court on St. Croix of conspiracy to commit theft from programs receiving federal funds, receipt of government property, and filing false tax returns. She has been incarcerated since Dec. 27 and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 19, when she faces up to 10 years in prison.
In a motion filed Thursday in V.I. District Court, Barnes alleges that any fraud or theft that took place was the work of Violet Anne Golden, the former head of the Casino Control Commission who pleaded guilty to misappropriating $295,503 of government funds in January 2020. Under her plea deal, Golden was sentenced to 24 months behind bars in August that year and was released in September 2021. She testified at Barnes’ trial on behalf of the prosecution.
According to court records, Golden and Barnes spent the money intended for agency operations on lavish trips, clothing, entertainment, and other unapproved items after Golden hired Barnes in 2015 to develop programs for people with gambling addictions.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the expenditures included a chartered plane and VIP passes to the St. Kitts Music Festival, travel to casino-related conferences “so as to enjoy luxurious hotel stays with meals and room service at high-end places such as the Ritz Carlton Hotel,” excursions to Disney World in Florida and to see “Hamilton” on Broadway in New York.
“All told, the evidence established that Barnes received salary and benefits from the Casino Commission totaling over $600,000 in approximately three years,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The irregularities in spending and administrative functions were brought to light by an investigation of the V.I. Inspector General in 2018, which led to a referral to the FBI. Golden and Barnes were indicted on July 11, 2019, and arrested one week later.
However, Barnes alleges in her motion that not only did Golden operate without any oversight by her fellow commissioners and employees, but she had also been doing so since 2013 when she became chairwoman — two years before Barnes was hired.
“The evidence clearly shows that Golden was using the Commission accounts as her personal accounts from 2013,” giving large sums of money to her family and friends, staying in expensive hotels, and traveling first class, the motion states.
“There is no evidence that Barnes ever used a VICCC credit card or wrote any check from any VICCC account, unlike … other executive directors who write checks to themselves. Golden also admitted to maxing out about twelve personal credit cards before acquiring complete and exclusive access to VICCC accounts, where she had the bank issue credit cards to herself, other VICCC commissioners, and the executive director. However, Golden controlled the statements and denied access to same by the executive director and other Commissioners,” the motion states.
If VICCC commissioners, the executive director, and other employees close to Golden claimed not to be aware of what she was doing, how could Barnes, a non-public employee, “know more about Golden’s spending habits and behavior than those who were being paid by the government to know,” the motion states.
“The Government has failed to establish an agreement between Barnes and Golden to defraud the United States Government, or that Barnes knew that Golden was misappropriating money from the Government to pay Barnes, or make unauthorized expenditures,” according to the motion.
When Barnes was required to travel to complete her education – first a master’s degree and then a doctorate she says Golden agreed to bankroll when Barnes switched her focus from autism to problem gambling at the chairwoman’s urging – Golden would accompany her and her autistic son, the motion states.
It was Golden who scheduled other events for them to attend at the government’s expense without Barnes’ knowledge or consent, it said.
“There is no evidence that Barnes had any information Golden possessed a VICCC credit card and was making unauthorized charges against VICCC accounts for the purpose of travel, hotel, personal purchases, etc.,” according to the motion. “Thus, there was no evidence of a conspiracy.”
As for Barnes’ conviction on the charge of filing a false tax return, the motion again lays blame on Golden for any subterfuge.
While Golden testified at Barnes’ trial that Barnes asked her to reduce the earnings on her 1099 in 2016 because she did not have the money to pay the taxes on the true amount, Barnes says in her motion that simply is not true.
“Barnes was aware of the discrepancy in the 1099 provided to her by Golden. Barnes questioned Golden about the discrepancy. Golden advised Barnes by letter that VICCC had to revise a number of tax documents and that there will be an amendment to her 1099,” the motion states.
Unable to obtain her business license because she still had not filed her 2016 tax return, Barnes consulted with her accountant and the IRB and was told she should file the return and would have three years to correct any discrepancies, according to the motion. “Based on the advice given to her, Barnes filed her 2016 tax return in 2018, with the understanding it was going to be corrected once VICCC issued the corrected 1099,” it said.
“Interestingly, the evidence showed that Barnes paid gross receipts on her 2016 income and even left a surplus payment with IRB. Although Barnes was aware VICCC had given her and filed an erroneous 1099 with the IRB for the year 2016, she nevertheless paid the correct amount on gross receipts,” the motion states.
“The evidence is clear that Golden was acting on her own and was using others, who knew nothing about her criminal activity or knew that the expenditures she was making were not authorized,” according to the motion.
When the Office of the V.I. Inspector General began its audit, and Barnes asked Golden why she was not cooperating with the investigation, “Golden, in no uncertain term, told Barnes that she, Golden, was the CEO of VICCC and that Barnes should stay out of her business. Barnes nevertheless continued to provide information obtained from Golden to the IG,” the motion states.
“Based on the foregoing, defendant respectfully requests this Court enter judgment of acquittal on the above counts, or in that alternative, grant a new trial,” it said.