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Uncle found guilty of bilking niece out of $111,000

Posted: Sunday, November 19, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A jury found a California man guilty of stealing over $111,000 from his niece, money she received after her parents died in a murder-suicide.

Jim Aiken, 43, was found guilty Friday of first-degree theft. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

The money came from the state Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation board, a memorial set up after her parents' death, monthly Social Security payments, retirement accounts and life insurance.

Aiken had moved back to Fairbanks from San Francisco to take care of Brienne Barnes after her father, Tony Barnes, shot her mother, Annette, then himself in 1997.

In closing arguments Friday, attorney Rob Lowrey argued that the money was used to provide Brienne with a loving home.

''His sister is murdered, his niece is left an orphan, the house is going to be foreclosed, the pipes are broken and there's blood in the house. This is not a place for Brienne,'' Lowery said. ''This is a man who did everything that he could do to make the best of the situation under the most terrible, horrible of circumstances.''

Lowrey said Aiken mismanaged the funds, spending them on stuffed animals, clothes, shoes, several trips to Texas to visit grandparents, furniture for a new house and general cost of living expenses for the two.

After two years, Barnes, 15, was left with nearly nothing.

Assistant district attorney Gene Gustafson argued that Aiken used the money to go on shopping sprees for himself. He outlined spending that showed Aiken withdrew or transferred most of the money from Barnes' account to his own account almost monthly for the first year that the girl was in his care. There were some cases that deposits indicated the check went directly into his account.

When Barnes' guardianship was changed a little over a year ago, the girl was left with a little more than $100 in one account and the 21 cents in the other.



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