US Virgin Islands Casino Commission Worker Sentenced for Embezzlement

Posted on: December 12, 2023, 04:49h. 

Last updated on: December 15, 2023, 10:07h.

A US Virgin Islands Casino Commission worker whose job was to advise on responsible gambling was sentenced Tuesday to 44 months in prison for embezzling commission funds.

Stephanie Barnes, US Virgin Islands Casino Commission
Stephanie Barnes, center, heading into a St Croix courtroom in December 2001. Later that month, a jury unanimously found her guilty of theft and tax evasion. (Image: The Virgin Islands Consortium)

Stephanie Barnes, 64, was hired in 2015 as a contractor by commission president Violet Anne Golden as the regulator’s first “certified gambling specialist,” despite having no experience in the field. Subsequently, Barnes and Golden went to town with commission funds, splurging on expensive entertainment and clothing, according to prosecutors.

This included chartering a plane to the St. Kitts Music Festival, for which they purchased VIP passes. The pair traveled to casino-related conferences while enjoying “luxurious hotel stays” and expensive meals, and even squeezed in a trip to Disney World in Florida. They also caught Hamilton on Broadway, according to the court.

The U.S. Virgin Islands casino market is small, with just two licensed casinos: Divi Carina Bay Resort & Casino and Casino at Hotel Caravelle, both on St. Croix. documents.

Profligate Spending

Barnes’ and Goldens’ infractions were uncovered in 2018 following an investigation by Virgin Island’s Inspector General, and the findings were referred to the FBI. The two were indicted on July 11, 2019, and arrested a week later.

Barnes denied charges of conspiracy to commit theft from programs receiving federal funds, receipt of government property, and filing false tax returns. She claimed she was innocently caught up in a culture of wasteful spending instigated by her boss, Golden.

Golden pleaded guilty in January 2020 to misappropriating $295,503 of government funds. Thanks to her plea deal, she was sentenced to a 24-month prison term and was released in September 2021. When Barnes went to trial in December that year, Golden was the prosecution’s star witness.

$600K Salary Top-Up

On Dec. 23, 2001, after two days of deliberations, a District Court jury unanimously found Barnes guilty of all three charges.

The tax evasion charge related to Barnes’ reported income to the IRS of $35,894 in 2016, despite knowing she had received much more in cash and perks from the casino commission’s coffers. Investigators determined that she received salary and benefits totaling $600K in approximately three years thanks to her arrangement with Golden.

District Court Chief Judge Robert Molloy ordered the defendant to pay restitution of $247,490 and to serve three years of supervised release once her sentence ends.