Posted on: December 28, 2021, 11:14h.
Last updated on: December 28, 2021, 11:16h.
The US Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission was used as a vehicle for theft by those in power, a federal jury determined on December 23.
Jurors in the US District Court on St. Croix levied a guilty verdict last Thursday against Stephanie Barnes, 63. After a three-week trial, the jury concluded that Barnes conspired with former Casino Control Commission Chair Violet Golden between 2015 and 2018 to embezzling more than $600,000 from the island government.
Barnes was deemed guilty of three federal charges, including two counts of theft and embezzlement of more than $1,000 of money belonging to the Government of the Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands resident was additionally convicted of knowingly filing a false tax return.
Barnes turned herself in to authorities yesterday morning. She will be sentenced on April 20.
The US Virgin Islands Casino Control Commission is tasked with licensing casinos and key employees. It is an independent agency of the VI Government. The agency consists of three board members, plus a regulatory and enforcement staff.
The US Virgin Islands casino market is small. There are currently only two licensed casinos inside resorts: Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino and Casino at Hotel Caravelle, both on St. Croix.
Total 2019 gross gaming revenue on the island was $10.38 million. The casinos won less than $4.5 million in 2020 due to the pandemic and inbound travel restrictions.
The US Department of Justice contends that Golden in 2015 hired Barnes as the Casino Control Commission’s first-ever “Certified Problem Gambling Specialist.” At the time of the hiring, Barnes had no experience combatting problem gambling.
The casino agency paid for Barnes to undergo a responsible gaming certificate program. The government regulatory later paid for Barnes to obtain both a Master’s and Ph.D. The DOJ did not specify the Master’s and Ph.D. programs.
In addition to paying for her schooling, federal prosecutors alleged that Barnes and Golden embarked on all-expenses-paid trips to casino-related conferences aboard chartered planes. The duo stayed at glitzy resorts including the Ritz Carlton Hotel on St. Thomas, and traveled to Disney World in Florida and took in a performance of “Hamilton” while staying in New York City.
All told, the evidence established that Barnes received salary and benefits from the Casino Commission totaling over $600,000 in approximately three years,” the Justice Department for the District of Virgin Islands concluded.
Unlike Golden, who admitted her guilt in the conspiracy and agreed to a plea deal, Barnes allowed her case to go to trial. The repercussions, as a result, are much more severe.
Barnes is facing up to eight years in prison after the jury consisting of two men and 10 women unanimously found her guilty of the three charges. Conversely, Golden has already been released from prison after serving a little more than 20 months behind bars.