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Stephanie Barnes Portrayed As Con Artist Who ‘Manipulated’ CCC Out Of $568,104

Stephanie Barnes Portrayed As Con Artist Who 'Manipulated' CCC Out Of $568,104

SMOOTH OPERATOR: Stephanie Barnes at U.S. District Court in Golden Rock on St. Croix.

GOLDEN ROCK — Jurors tasked with deciding the fate of Stephanie Barnes will begin deliberations in U.S. District Court on St. Croix today, after hearing closing arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys Wednesday.

Prosecutors described Barnes as a clever manipulator who knew she was participating in a conspiracy to steal money from the government, while defense attorney Martial Webster said Barnes was an “unsuspecting victim” of former Casino Control Commission Chairwoman Violet Anne Golden.

Barnes is accused of conspiring with Golden between 2015 and 2018 to steal hundreds of thousands in government funds that were used for personal gain, and is charged with three crimes — conspiracy to commit theft from programs receiving government funds, conversion or theft of government property, and filing a false tax return.

Barnes received a total of $568,104 in payments from the commission, according to testimony.

UNSUSPECTING VICTIM? Former Casino Control Commission (CCC) Chairwoman Violet Anne Golden

The case began with an audit led by Marsha Dubois of the Virgin Islands Inspector General’s office, which led to a criminal investigation by the FBI. Golden pleaded guilty in January 2020 to theft from a program receiving federal funds and willful failure to file a tax return. She was released from prison on September 24 after serving a little over 20 months behind bars and testified against Barnes at trial.

Barnes testified in her own defense Tuesday, describing the work she did training casino employees under agreements with Golden, and assuring jurors she had no idea Golden was using the commission’s government credit card to charge luxury trips, jewelry, clothes, concert tickets, college courses, and more.

Webster had told the court he intended to call between five and 10 witnesses. None appeared, and Barnes was the only witness to take the stand in her defense.

Barnes was paid $250 per person for her training sessions, and testified that she reached out to Dubois to alert her to inconsistencies she’d discovered in sign-in sheets used to calculate her pay, but received no response from the auditor.

“I am a very thorough person, and if I were an auditor, I would have called me and asked me to help,” Barnes testified Tuesday.

Wednesday morning began with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Koster recalling Dubois to impeach Barnes’s testimony.

Dubois testified that Barnes never told her she’d found inconsistencies in her records, and if she had, it would have been written up and included in her report.

Dubois’s audit found that Barnes had overbilled the commission $29,500 for training in 2016 alone.

After the prosecution rested again, Webster made a motion for acquittal, arguing the evidence presented by the prosecutors wasn’t sufficient to sustain a conviction.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Molloy denied the motion and found that “there is sufficient evidence in this record to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Rikhye summarized that evidence during closing arguments, using photos, exhibits, and other visual aids to help guide jurors through the timeline of events, which began when Barnes was replaced as ADA Coordinator in the Office of the Governor and started her own company, “Autism and Behavioral Consulting” in 2015.

That company’s only client was the casino control commission, and Rikhye said Barnes and Golden signed agreements that they kept secret from other commissioners.

“It’s unusual to see two co-conspirators actually put their agreement in writing, but in this case, that’s what they did,” Rikhye said.

Webster’s closing arguments were so lengthy a juror begged the judge for a bathroom break, and he accused prosecutors of concocting a case against Barnes because others said she was in a relationship with Golden.

“Nonsense. They need to stop it. Fabricating all kind of evidence,” Webster said. “Whatever Miss Golden was doing, she wasn’t telling her bestie.”

Barnes also took her autistic son, now 28, on several of the luxury trips with Golden — including a $22,159 trip to Disney World and a $29,149 trip to see “Hamilton” on Broadway — and Webster said it was natural for Barnes to take him along on business trips.

He said her son “is her appendage,” and suddenly raised his voice to jurors: “You would deprive this child of his mother?!”

That prompted an objection from Koster and a warning from Molloy.

Webster told jurors they needed to “be brave, to be true patriots,” and “send my client back to her child.”

Koster described the last comment as “grossly inappropriate,” and told jurors Webster is “trying to get you to nullify, he’s trying to get you not to follow the law,” and find Barnes not guilty, despite the evidence against her.

Koster said jurors needn’t worry about what happens to Barnes, and focus only on the facts at hand.

“It is her guilt to shoulder, not yours, not this court’s, not mine. It was her choice,” Koster said.

“I hope it’s clear to you that our interest was not whether or not these women had a lesbian relationship. Our interest is intent, of motive,” Koster added.

“We have put before you a veritable mountain of evidence,” Koster said. “The only person doing the manipulating here was Stephanie Barnes.

Koster told jurors it’s been a long, difficult trial, and if they take away nothing else, “take away the fact that you can be proud of Marsha Dubois.”

By SUZANNE CARLSON/The Virgin Islands Daily News

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