In the cerulean lap of the Caribbean, under the vibrant sunlit skies of the US Virgin Islands, a narrative of betrayal plays out with the unfolding of a scandal that strikes at the heart of the Casino Commission. At the helm of this narrative is Stephanie Barnes, 64, an individual employed to preach the tenet of responsible gaming, who now finds herself condemned to dwell within the confining walls of a prison cell for a stretch of 44 months, following her conviction for embezzlement of public funds.
Once a trusted advisor, Barnes was brought on board as a “certified gambling specialist” in 2015, despite her resumé bearing no mark of experience in the realm of gaming. It was under the wing of commission president Violet Anne Golden that Barnes ventured on a path that veered sharply from the commission’s mission. The duo soon embarked on a spree of extravagant expenditures, carelessly flooding commission funds into luxurious escapades.
Their ventures were as grandiose as they were varied, encompassing the private chartering of a plane whisked to the radiant festivities of the St. Kitts Music Festival, where VIP passes awaited their arrival. They sashayed through casino-related conferences nestled in the embrace of sumptuous hotel accommodations and dined on the finest of fares. In an act of utter indulgence, Barnes and Golden even drifted away to the whimsical enchantments of Disney World and were swept up by the lyrical allure of Broadway’s “Hamilton.”
Meanwhile, the tendrils of the island’s casino scene reached only modestly into the market, with the Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino and Casino at Hotel Caravelle both springing from the fertile grounds of St. Croix.
The curtain was pulled back on these transgressions in 2018, following the vigilant scrutiny of the Virgin Island’s Inspector General. The discoveries unearthed led to the involvement of the FBI, and by July 2019, indictments clanged down on the duo, with arrests occurring swiftly after.
Barnes stood her ground, denying allegations that included collusion in theft, misappropriation of government assets, and the obfuscation of tax truths. She painted herself as an inadvertent participant in a larger machination of lavish spending, with her employer, Golden, purportedly pulling the strings. However, Golden, tangled in her own web of deceit, accepted the mantle of guilt in early 2020 for the misallocation of $295,503 of government treasure. A plea deal served Golden a 24-month sentence, from which she emerged in September 2021.
Contrasting her former accomplice’s fate, when Barnes’ day in court dawned in December, the evidence stacked against her was buttressed by Golden, now a prosecutorial ally. The jury, unified in their judgment, anchored Barnes with guilt on every count.
Income reported to the IRS by Barnes in 2016 amounted to a paltry $35,894, a blatant understatement as investigators later revealed she had lined her pockets with cash and luxuries, amassing nearly $600,000 from the commission’s coffers over just three years, a surreptitious salary boost orchestrated by herself and Golden.
Chief Judge Robert Molloy, presiding over the District Court, laid down the judgment with stern authority, decreeing Barnes to not only weather her 44 months behind bars but to also offer restitution totalling $247,490. Furthermore, upon reclaiming her liberty, Barnes is to be shadowed by three years of supervised release—a poignant tail to her saga of fall from grace.