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HomeNewsLocal newsBarnes Files Notice She Will Appeal Her Conviction

Barnes Files Notice She Will Appeal Her Conviction

Stephanie Barnes — sentenced in December to 44 months in prison for her role in the theft of government funds when she was a contract worker for the Casino Control Commission — has filed notice with the V.I. District Court that she intends to appeal her conviction.

Barnes, 64, also filed a motion asking that her appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals be “held in abeyance” — meaning temporarily suspended — until several other outstanding motions are resolved.

These include a motion requesting her trial transcript and court records, another claiming ineffective assistance of counsel during the trial, and one she intends to pursue, seeking leave to appeal “in Forma Pauperis,” essentially asking the court to forgo its fees because she is broke. An entry on the docket noted that the $505 fee for filing the notice of appeal has not been received.

Barnes is representing herself after she fired her sixth attorney, Miguel Oppenheimer, who asked to withdraw from the case at a hearing in August, citing a breakdown in communication. Molloy granted that request and, at a hearing in October, declined to appoint a new counsel.

Though Barnes said she did not wish to proceed pro se — meaning representing herself — at her sentencing or any subsequent proceedings, the court had previously made clear that her Sixth Amendment right to counsel was not absolute and could be waived or forfeited by an affirmative request or conduct, said Molloy.

“Despite the Court’s warning prior to the hearing that an unreasonable refusal to cooperate with Attorney Oppenheimer could cause Barnes to lose her right to counsel, she still refused to work with Attorney Oppenheimer in good faith,” Molloy wrote in his order. “Thus, after carefully considering Barnes’ grievances and accusations regarding Attorney Oppenheimer’s representation and determining the claims lacked merit, the Court concluded that Barnes’ repeated and unreasonable demands for new counsel and her complete refusal to work with Attorney Oppenheimer amounted to an effective waiver of the right to counsel.”

Barnes has been incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico since she was found guilty at her jury trial in December 2021 of conspiracy to commit theft from programs receiving federal funds, receipt of government property, and filing false tax returns.

She has never wavered in her defense that she was an unwitting victim of her boss, Violet Anne Golden’s profligate spending. The pair were arrested in July 2019 following an investigation by the V.I. Inspector General in 2018 that led to a referral to the FBI and, subsequently, a grand jury indictment.

However, in sentencing Barnes on Dec. 8, Molloy denied a motion for acquittal that her trial attorney filed in March 2022 alleging that any fraud or theft that took place was the work of Golden, the former head of the Casino Control Commission who pleaded guilty to misappropriating $295,503 of government funds in January 2020.

Under a 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 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 as the commission’s first-ever “Certified Gambling Specialist.”

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 City.

The two women also conspired to use commission funds to pay for Barnes’ personal vehicle repairs and gasoline, hurricane-related personal expenses after the twin Category 5 storms Irma and Maria in 2017, and to help pay for her certification in problem gambling as well as her Ph.D., according to court documents.

The false tax return charge alleged that Barnes reported income of only $35,894 for 2016, despite knowing she had received much more than that in funds stolen and embezzled from the Casino Commission and wages paid through her “unlawful agreement with Golden,” the government said.

All told, the evidence established that Barnes received salary and benefits from the commission totaling over $600,000 in approximately three years, the government said.

Barnes has also been ordered to pay restitution of $247,490 and will be subject to three years of supervised release once her sentence ends.

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