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Cheektowaga traffic stop nets Guyana embezzler wanted by Interpol

Gregory Alistair Ewan Barnes didn’t get around to renewing the registration on his 1997 gold Infiniti. Depending how much he has been enjoying the frigid winter here, that may have been a big mistake, since he could be heading to warmer shores very soon, courtesy of Interpol.

When Cheektowaga police pulled over the four-door sedan with tinted windows early Monday evening on Genesee Street to let the driver know his plates were out of date, they were surprised to discover when they ran his license that Barnes, 32, is considered an international criminal.

He has been wanted for four years on fraud charges in Guyana, a small South American country on the Atlantic Ocean just north of the equator.

Until 2009, when he disappeared, Barnes was a cashier for the Guyana Revenue Authority – that country’s version of the IRS. He is accused of working with a tech employee to embezzle somewhere between $6 million and $300 million from the authority.

That is in Guyanese dollars. It translates to between $29,000 and $1.4 million in U.S. dollars. Because the authority has been riddled with so many accusations of corruption, the exact amount is uncertain.

According to a 2010 story in Georgetown, Guyana’s Stabroek News, Barnes and a co-worker named Garfield Pearson, a systems engineer, conspired to pocket tax payments made to the GRA.

Authorities allege Barnes would accept the payments, give the taxpayers their receipts, and then the men would delete the transactions from the agency’s computer system before balancing the books, keeping some of the money for themselves.

The fraud reportedly was detected when one of the payments was not deleted after it was embezzled.

Barnes was believed to have fled within two days of the start of the investigation and did not surface again until Cheektowaga Officers Justin Haag and Shawn McAdams noticed the expired inspection sticker on his car this week.

The license check revealed a warrant for his arrest, which police confirmed through U.S. National Central Bureau, a division of Interpol U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Assistant Chief Jim Speyer said Barnes apparently wound up in Cheektowaga because of a girlfriend, with whom he lived on George Urban Boulevard. Police don’t know if the woman knew that Barnes was a wanted man, but Barnes apparently did.

“He said he did not steal nearly as much money as the government was claiming he did,” Speyer said. “I think it was, maybe, $5,000.”

Barnes was turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for a visa violation and may be deported to Guyana.

As for Pearson, in January 2010, the Stabroek News reported that $976,000 of the missing cash (again, in Guyanese dollars) was mysteriously returned to a bank before Pearson, the only one arrested, had bail set at $1 million.

Pearson went missing shortly afterward while his lawyer argued that his client was a husband, soon-to-be-father and first-year computer student at the University at Guyana, and totally innocent.

It looks like he made a good case, because, in July 2013, the university published the results of work by Pearson, still a student, and another researcher into using fingerprints and cryptography to safeguard computer files. They conceded in their summary that they weren’t able to get their system to work, but planned to keep trying.

Federal authorities could not be reached to determine whether Barnes had been returned yet to Guyana, where, for the record, temperatures reached a high of 84 degrees on Friday.