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HomeNewsLocal newsJudge Strikes Barnes' Motion that Sought to Vacate Conviction

Judge Strikes Barnes’ Motion that Sought to Vacate Conviction

District Court Chief Judge Robert Molloy has struck down Stephanie Barnes’ motion asking that “false modifications” to her trial transcript that she termed “racist and abhorrent” be corrected or her conviction vacated.

Stephanie Barnes (Source file photo)

Barnes, 63, the former Casino Control Commission contractor found guilty of conspiracy to commit theft from programs receiving federal funds, receipt of government property, and filing a false tax return at her jury trial in December 2021, filed the motion pro se — meaning representing herself — “due to the abandonment of her court-appointed attorney,” according to her motion.

However, Molloy ruled on Monday that Barnes is represented by a court-appointed attorney and cannot at the same time represent herself.

“Here, the Court most recently appointed Attorney Miguel Oppenheimer to represent Barnes during her upcoming sentencing. … Attorney Oppenheimer has since entered an appearance on Barnes’ behalf and continued to represent Barnes in this matter including making the relevant filings for her upcoming sentencing,” Molloy wrote in his order.

“While Barnes has complained of Oppenheimer’s alleged ineffectiveness, at no point in these proceedings has Barnes specifically requested, ‘clearly and unequivocally,’ to waive her right to counsel and proceed pro se,” Molloy said.

Additionally, there is no indication that Barnes has specifically requested a “hybrid” representation either, he said. “As such, the Court is without sufficient information to properly consider the merits of allowing Barnes to proceed with self-representation while also having retained counsel.”

Barnes’ motion asked Molloy “for an immediate order” to be served on the U.S. Attorney’s Office “to immediately stop the obstruction of justice altering the defendant’s trial transcript to save their case at appellate review and in justification of the falsifications of the defendant’s presentencing report done for the purpose of enhancements.”

Barnes alleged that “the government is scrambling to modify the trial transcript” after being made aware of her intent to appeal her conviction to the Third Circuit Court.

She called the alleged changes to the transcripts “racist and abhorrent,” though did not offer specific examples of such in her four-page, single-spaced motion that was written using the rudimentary computer system available to detainees at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, where she has been held since shortly after her conviction on Dec. 23, 2021.

In response, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed its own motion asking Molloy to strike Barnes’ motion because she cannot proceed both pro se and with counsel but also because it reflects “a pattern of vitriolic rhetoric and hyperbolic claims unsupported by the facts of the case,” it said.

“The United States hereby advises the Court that we are not in possession of, nor have we sought any modifications to, the trial transcript in this matter. To date, Barnes is the only party in this matter to request and receive expedited copies of the trial transcript,” according to the government’s motion.

“The United States further observes that Barnes’ pro se motion reflects a pattern of vitriolic rhetoric and hyperbolic claims that are unsupported by the facts of this case. Hence, Barnes’ objectives must be construed as an attempt to obstruct the criminal proceedings against her and to stymie this Court in its duty to fairly administer justice,” the government’s motion stated.

On Monday, Molloy agreed.

“At the outset of the proceedings, Barnes was represented by Attorney Michael A. Rogers of the Federal Public Defender’s office but was subsequently relieved of his representational duties by Attorney Namosha Boykin on July 22, 2019. Boykin was then replaced by Attorney Robert L. King on August 12, 2019. Just one month later, Attorney Pamela Lynn Colon substituted King as Barnes’ counsel. Barnes, still unsatisfied with her representation, proceeded to hire Attorney Martial Webster in March of 2020,” the judge wrote.

Webster represented Barnes at trial but filed a motion to withdraw from the case in March 2022 over a lack of payment, which was rejected, and again in July 2022, which the court granted, Molloy noted. In August, Oppenheimer became her sixth attorney.

Sentencing for Barnes, so far rescheduled six times, is currently slated for 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 25 in V.I. District Court on St. Croix after Molloy granted another extension on April 14. He said then that a hearing will be held the same day on a motion Barnes filed in March 2022 seeking acquittal or a new trial, claiming she was an unwitting victim of former Casino Control Commission Chairwoman Violet Anne Golden’s profligate spending.

Golden hired Barnes in 2015 to work as a consultant, developing programs to help people with gambling addictions. According to court documents, they took close to $300,000 in funds approved for agency operations and spent it on lavish trips, clothing, entertainment, and other unapproved items.

The irregularities in spending and administrative functions were brought to light by an investigation of the V.I. Inspector General’s Office in 2018, which led to an FBI investigation. Barnes and Golden were subsequently arrested in July 2019.

Under a plea deal, Golden pleaded guilty to misappropriating $295,503 of government funds in January 2020. She was sentenced in August that year to 24 months and was released in September 2021. She testified at Barnes’ trial on behalf of the prosecution.

If given the maximum sentence, Barnes could face 10 years in prison.

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