Former Sen. Wayne James has asked a federal judge to throw out his criminal conviction for theft of nearly $89,000 in public funds, and is claiming he can’t afford a private attorney — while also running a “luxury” retail website where he’s selling an $860 scarf and a $650 bathrobe.
Since his release from prison in June 2020, James has been writing online about his efforts to overturn his conviction, bragging that “For me, prison was a ‘lime’ on the Fed’s dime — a much-needed vacation on-the-cheap.”
A St. Croix senator in the 28th Legislature in 2009 and 2010, James, 58, obtained taxpayer money from the government to travel to Denmark to obtain records that he said would aid in researching Virgin Islands history.
He was indicted on Oct. 1, 2015, following investigations by the V.I. Office of the Inspector General and the FBI, which found that James used the money for his own personal gain.
U.S. Justice Department trial attorney Amanda Vaughn said in court documents that James “used his only term in public office to embezzle $88,913.51 under the guise of paying for historical research and document repatriation for the benefit of the people of the Virgin Islands,” and “instead used the money to line his own pockets, further his own goals of being a screenwriter, and pay new and old personal debts.”
With the Internal Revenue Bureau garnishing his legislative salary to pay a $197,000 tax levy, James used the money for travel and personal expenses, and diverted about $20,000 to pay for his failed re-election campaign.
He received over 1,600 pages of documents about the 1878 Fireburn labor revolt on St. Croix, but “trial testimony demonstrated that he never delivered the documents to the Legislature of this territory. Instead, James kept the historical documents in order to further his future plans of becoming a screenwriter of the Fireburn movie.” A jury found him guilty in August 2018 on two counts of wire fraud and one count of federal programs embezzlement.
He was sentenced to 30 months in prison, three years’ supervised release and was also ordered to pay a special assessment of $300 and restitution in the amount of $78,913.51.
James appealed his conviction and sentence to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected his arguments.
Despite failing to persuade the 3rd Circuit James filed a “petition to vacate conviction based on ineffective legal representation” in U.S. District Court on Oct. 1.
James filed an “affidavit of indigency,” a one-sentence statement claiming he has “no means of financial support and no assets of any value and therefore, cannot afford to pay for any legal services, fees or costs.”
He also asked the court to appoint him an attorney and issue “an order granting funds to pay an expert in the Gothic Danish Language, and an expert in the Dutch Creole Language as spoken in the Danish West Indies until 1841 and a microfiche archivist expert,” which he claimed are necessary to assist him “in the preparation and presentation of the post-conviction claims.”
On Friday, Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller found that James did not file complete documents as required by court rules, and ordered the court clerk to provide him with the necessary motions, which he must sign and return by Dec. 8.
If he fails to meet that deadline, “this matter may be dismissed without further notice,” Miller wrote.
Since his release from custody, James has been operating a website, WayneJamesLTD.com, billed as “the official online Concepts Store for the luxury collection of fashion designer Wayne James.”
Among the items advertised are a $650 “Irish linen men’s robe,” silver and gold belt buckles, and spice blends titled “Wayne James’ Seasonings for Men.”
James is also selling a leather scarf stamped with his initials for $860, and claims he invented the accessory this year.
“There is nothing like it out there. And there has never been anything like it. It is truly a new concept, and I am happy to introduce it to the world,” James wrote.
London-based luxury designer Fameed Khalique has been selling a line of leather scarves online since 2017, and New York designer Luxirare sold her own version of leather scarves online in 2012. James uses Virgin Islands history as a marketing tool on the site with “Club 48,” a discount club for his first 48 customers, “named in honor of July 3, 1848, when the enslaved population of St. Croix, Danish West Indies (present-day United States Virgin Islands), led by ‘General Buddhoe,’ demanded and were granted their emancipation.”
James describes himself on the website as a “fashion designer, lawyer and former senator,” but makes no mention of his criminal history.
James could not be reached for comment by The Daily News on Monday, but he’s written candidly about the criminal case and his time in prison on another website, Manly-Manners.com, a blog and promotional page for his self-published books on etiquette.
Before his trial, James used the website to complain that he was being unfairly prosecuted, and claimed that “after almost six years of rumors and false accusations, I will have my say in a court of law.”
After his conviction, James wrote that his public defender “presented no defense during the August 2018 criminal trial,” and lamented that, “Even Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s murderer, received a defense. I, however, received none. Talk about injustice.”