Stephanie Barnes on trial for defrauding taxpayers | News


ST. CROIX — An auditor with the Inspector General’s Office testified Thursday that former Casino Control Commission contractor Stephanie Barnes performed inappropriate training of casino employees using government funds, overbilled for those services, and even mediated a sexual harassment complaint.

Barnes is currently on trial in U.S. District Court on St. Croix, charged with conspiring with former Casino Control Commission Chairwoman Violet Anne Golden to steal from programs receiving government funds.

While Barnes has maintained her innocence and pleaded not guilty to all charges, Golden, 61, pleaded guilty in January 2020 to theft from a program receiving federal funds, and willful failure to file a tax return. She was released on Sept. 24 after serving a little over 20 months behind bars.

Golden recently testified as a witness for the prosecution, and she and Barnes are no longer the close friends who for years took lavish vacations together with Barnes’s son.

Those vacations were typically paid for with Golden’s Casino Commission credit card, but the theft went beyond travel expenses, according to Marsha Dubois, who led the Inspector General’s audit of commission funds.

Altered receipts prompt criminal probe

Dubois testified Thursday about the painstaking two-year audit from 2016 through 2018 in which they sifted through thousands of documents and receipts — some of which they suspected had been altered before being submitted for review.

The auditors uncovered numerous inconsistencies that caused concern, and the case was eventually referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution, she said. Barnes and Golden were charged on July 11, 2019.

Through her company, Autism & Behavioral Consulting LLC, Barnes was paid $250 per training attendee, and Golden used her authority as commission chairwoman to mandate the training for all employees of Divi and Caravelle casinos — even sending a sharply worded email to the casino managers expressing her displeasure that some employees had skipped training sessions.

“This type of behavior is unacceptable,” Golden wrote in the email, which was displayed for the jury.

Lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Koster questioned Dubois about why the situation raised concerns.

“It’s a conflict of interest,” Dubois said.

Because Barnes was paid per employee, “it’s in her interest that as many employees as possible attend these trainings,” and with Golden being a fiduciary of government funds, “it just seemed inappropriate and a conflict of interest if training is mandatory.”

The commission’s duty “is to regulate the casinos. It’s not the commission’s duty to tell a private company how to manage their employees,” she added.

Barnes was conducting training on subjects unrelated to gambling and outside the commission’s purview, and “nowhere in the regulations did it say the casino control commission was supposed to be an HR manager for a private entity,” Dubois said.

Dubois said the records show that Barnes also billed for extra attendees who did not actually attend training sessions, and in some instances used identical sign-in sheets from one training and changed the dates and subjects to show evidence of additional training not performed.

The Inspector General’s Office calculated that Barnes overbilled the commission $29,500 for training over the course of six months in 2016, Dubois testified.

According to court records, Barnes received over $175,000 in direct payments in 2016 alone, not including her education, travel, and transportation-related expenses also covered by the commission.

In August 2016, Barnes billed the commission a total of $20,250 for “behavioral mediation,” Dubois testified.

The mediation was for a sexual harassment issue between casino employees, and Barnes billed for “whatever mediation, consulting, counseling she did,” Dubois testified.

She said that mediation would typically be done by a company’s human resources staff — not a government contractor.

Trips, splurges and red carpet outings

Dubois also testified about the numerous trips the women took together, and the escalating bills they racked up along the way as they splurged on increasingly expensive flights, rental cars, and hotel stays.

While the trips were ostensibly to attend conferences, the women stayed for days longer than necessary and bought tickets to events and shows.

A 2015 trip to the St. Kitts Music Festival totaled $8,503.

A similar trip in 2016 cost $15,246, including three room service orders on a single day totaling $800.

In 2017, rather than flying commercially, Barnes chartered a plane for the trio to St. Kitts at a cost of $5,600. They also paid $1,700 in tickets for an exclusive VIP event at the festival, and Dubois said she found photos of Barnes and Golden walking a red carpet on the event’s Facebook page, which were shown to the jury.

The 2017 St. Kitts trip cost a total of $16,800.

On a 2016 trip to Florida, Golden rented a white Cadillac Escalade for $3,009 and spent additional money on valet parking and other hotel charges, which totaled $8,067.

Dubois said the commission’s travel policy forbids purchase of alcohol, and government per diem is $75, but she said Golden and Barnes often spent far in excess of that, including $70 on a single bottle of wine.

A 2016 trip to Orlando totaled $22,159, including $4.442 at Disney World, Dubois testified. A 2016 trip to Miami totaled $19,073, and Barnes and Golden spent an astonishing $29,149, including $10,232 in room charges at The Ritz-Carlton and nearly $5,000 for three tickets to see “Hamilton” on Broadway.

Defense questions motive for audit

During cross examination, Barnes’s defense attorney, Martial Webster, worked to minimize Barnes’s role in the case.

He questioned Dubois about her audit methods and suggested the inquiry was prompted by former Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s ill will toward Golden.

Dubois said she didn’t know there was animosity between Golden and Mapp at the time.

Webster also asked whether Barnes fulfilled the terms of her $65,000 contract to do problem gambling awareness programs.

Dubois said not all of the documents requested by the Inspector General’s Office were provided, and “we were not able to confirm that the scope of work that is listed in the memorandum was satisfied.”

The prosecution’s case continues today.


Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *