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Stephanie Barnes Receives 44-Month Prison Sentence for Embezzlement and Tax Fraud

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In a recent judgment by District Court Judge Robert Molloy, Stephanie Barnes, a former government contractor, has been sentenced to a total of 44 months in prison. This decision, handed down in St. Croix, comes in the wake of Barnes’s involvement in embezzling funds from government-funded programs, converting government property, and submitting a false tax return.

The sentencing, which exceeds the basic guideline calculations, follows a comprehensive 19-page memorandum from the U.S. Department of Justice. The Department advocated for a 3.75-year sentence, emphasizing the importance of aligning the severity of punishment in the Virgin Islands with that on the mainland, especially considering Barnes’s violation of Virgin Islands tax law.

The case detailed Barnes’s collusion with Anne Golden in misappropriating funds from the VI Casino Control Commission. Their fraudulent activities included arranging no-bid contracts, funding Barnes’s doctoral studies through illicit means, and misusing funds for personal expenses. Additionally, Barnes was found guilty of filing a misleading tax form for the year 2016, which considerably lowered her tax obligations.

While co-defendant Golden pled guilty and received a 24-month sentence, Barnes maintained her innocence throughout the trial. Her defense labeled the charges as “propaganda.” Post-conviction, Barnes sought a retrial, alleging bias on the part of Judge Molloy due to his connections with Golden and her family. Efforts to subpoena Governor Albert Bryan Jr. for her defense were unsuccessful.

In his ruling, Judge Molloy assigned Barnes 33 months for conspiracy to commit theft, 44 months for the illegal conversion of government property, and an additional 12 months for the falsified tax return. These sentences will run concurrently, leading to the 44-month term.

Barnes is also ordered to pay restitution of over $247,000 and a $10,000 fine for the conspiracy charge. She is required to participate in a prison work program to contribute towards this restitution, and any additional income, including gifts or lottery winnings, will be allocated to this purpose.

Prosecutors stressed the necessity of a prison sentence to serve as a deterrent, noting Barnes’s refusal to admit guilt, her lack of remorse, and her unwillingness to accept responsibility. Despite her conviction, Barnes continues to assert that she is entitled to $75,000 from the VICCC.

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Crime

Daring Nighttime Maritime Operation Foiled by CBP Agents

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In a bold effort thwarted by vigilant Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, a man now faces charges in the Virgin Islands District Court following a thwarted human smuggling operation from Tortola to St. John.

The drama unfolded on the night of February 23, near the serene Leinster Bay in St. John. CBP Marine Interdiction Agents, during their coastal patrol, detected an unlit boat making its secretive journey from the shores of Tortola. Employing night vision technology, the agents meticulously tracked the vessel as it stealthily crossed international waters, arriving in the tranquil vicinity of Leinster Bay, near the historic Annaberg ruins, under the cloak of darkness.

The boat’s attempt to slip back to Tortola was abruptly halted when the agents, revealing their presence with activated lights and sirens, demanded the vessel to stop. Lorenzo Charles, the captain hailing from St. Vincent & the Grenadines, was apprehended, and the boat was seized and towed to St. Thomas.

The capture revealed Charles and five passengers aboard: three individuals from India, including a minor, an Argentinian, and a Dominican Republic national. It was determined that none were U.S. citizens, having entered the country without authorization.

Charles promptly acknowledged his wrongdoing upon interrogation, confessing to a Homeland Security Investigations special agent about the illicit nature of his actions. He disclosed a desperate attempt to settle a $4000 debt by performing the smuggling operation, arranged after a mysterious lender demanded repayment.

According to Charles, the operation was meticulously planned, with the embarkation from Tortola’s West End under the guidance of his creditor, who loaded the five passengers onto his vessel. Despite lacking GPS equipment, Charles was confident in his navigational skills, having observed St. John from Tortola. He admitted to previously smuggling individuals into the U.S. and hoped this operation would extinguish his remaining debt.

The passengers shared a different story, claiming payment to another for their transport from Tortola to St. John, highlighting the complex web of human smuggling operations.

A detention hearing for Charles is scheduled with U.S. Magistrate Ruth Miller. Prosecutors advocate for his detention, citing a significant flight risk, though they remain open to conditional pre-trial release given the identification of a reliable third-party custodian.

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Crime

Law Enforcement Swiftly Captures Suspect in Christiansted Robbery Spree

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Following a series of robbery incidents in Christiansted on February 20, the Virgin Islands Police Department (VIPD) demonstrated remarkable efficiency by arresting 28-year-old Koi Thomas. The alarming events, reported to the emergency services in close succession at approximately 10:45 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., prompted a swift and thorough response from the VIPD’s Criminal Investigation Bureau detectives.

Eyewitness accounts from the victims were crucial in the investigation, enabling law enforcement to quickly gather surveillance footage pinpointing Thomas as the perpetrator. In a fortunate turn of events, Thomas had been apprehended earlier the same day on unrelated larceny charges in the Gallows Bay area, and was already under detention at the John Bell Correctional Facility.

Detectives visited the correctional facility on February 22, where they officially charged Thomas with two counts of third-degree robbery. Subsequently, Thomas was processed at the Wilbur H. Francis Command Police Station, with his bail determined at $25,000.

Despite Thomas’s court hearing being scheduled for the following Friday, information pertaining to his legal proceedings had yet to be disclosed publicly by Sunday. This arrest underscores the vigilance and dedication of the Virgin Islands law enforcement in maintaining public safety and swiftly addressing criminal activities.

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Crime

Tragic Shooting in St. Thomas Leaves Young Man Dead

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A tragic incident unfolded in the Bovoni Housing Community of St. Thomas late on Thursday night, claiming the life of a young resident. Omar K. Fontaine, a 20-year-old local, fell victim to a lethal shooting, succumbing to multiple gunshot wounds.

The incident was detected by the ShotSpotter Detection System, which notified the V.I. Police Department of the gunfire at precisely 11:11 p.m. Officers from the Mariel C. Newton Command swiftly responded to the alert and discovered Fontaine unresponsive. Despite the prompt arrival of emergency medical technicians, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fontaine’s untimely death has sparked a thorough investigation by the Major Crimes Unit of the VIPD, which is determined to bring those responsible to justice. The police are appealing to the community for assistance, encouraging anyone with information to step forward. Contributions can be made directly to the Major Crimes Unit at 340-642-8449, through a call to 911, or by submitting tips anonymously via Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8476 or online through their tip form.

This devastating event underscores the urgent need for community cooperation and vigilance in combating violence and safeguarding our neighborhoods.

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