In an ironical twist of fate, a US Virgin Islands Casino Commission employee tasked with the advisory on responsible gambling was sentenced on Tuesday to a 44-month prison term for engaging in the very type of misconduct she was supposed to combat—embezzlement of commission funds.
Stephanie Barnes, 64, found herself amidst the somber walls of a St. Croix federal courtroom, the gravity of her offense laid bare. She had started her journey with the commission in 2015, having been appointed by the commission president, Violet Anne Golden, as the first “certified gambling specialist,” a position she stepped into devoid of any prior experience in that arena.
The chain of events that unfolded can only be described as an audacious escapade. Barnes, alongside Golden, took liberty with the commission’s coffers indulging in extravagant amusement and high-end apparel, carving a path of financial indiscretion that included charting a private plane to attend the St. Kitts Music Festival, replete with VIP access. Their spree extended to attending casino-related conferences, basking in opulent hotel stays, savoring costly cuisines, reveling in the wonders of Disney World, and even securing seats for the coveted Broadway show, Hamilton.
The US Virgin Islands boasts a boutique casino market featuring two licensed establishments—the Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino and Casino at Hotel Caravelle—both perched on the island of St. Croix. It was from these modest roots that the vast unauthorized expenditure sprouted.
The duo’s fiscal malpractices were unmasked in 2018 by the diligent efforts of the Virgin Island’s Inspector General. The concerning revelations were promptly escalated to the FBI’s attention, resulting in their indictment on July 11, 2019, followed by arrests only a week hence.
Despite her fervent pleadings of innocence—a mere casualty, she suggested, of the culture of flagrant expenditure championed by Golden—Barnes faced charges of conspiracy to commit government fund theft, government property misappropriation, and submitting fraudulent tax returns.
Her former superior, Golden, having admitted to misusing $295,503 of government funds, accepted a plea deal that handed her a 24-month prison sentence, leading to her release in September 2021. When Barnes stood trial, it was Golden who took the stand as star witness for the prosecution.
The conclusion of Barnes’ trial arrived on December 23, 2001, with a jury in unanimous agreement on her guilt across all charges after just two days of contemplation. The spotlight of tax evasion shone on her for her 2016 IRS declaration income of $35,894, starkly contrary to the largesse she had reaped—a sum belying the $600,000 she had amassed from the commission’s treasury over roughly three years working in tandem with Golden.
In passing sentence, District Court Chief Judge Robert Molloy mandated Barnes to make restitution payments totaling $247,490 and dictated a three-year period of supervised release upon completion of her incarceration.
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