YAKIMA, Wash. -- A private investigator in Yakima is accused of using bribes and intimidation to force witnesses to change their testimony and there may be more cases she has influenced.
Stephanie Barnes appeared in court Monday facing three felony charges: tampering with a witness, bribing a witness and intimidating a witness.
According to the Yakima County Sheriff's Office, Barnes was hired by a known Norteno gang member in a kidnapping case. Investigators say Barnes met the victim of the kidnapping at the Fronteras Del Norte bus stop on Nob Hill Boulevard. Detectives say she offered the victim safety and a red Audi A8 in exchange for altering their statement to police.
"When you've got someone going out there, especially in very serious cases," Sergeant Mike Russell said, "and intimidating or convincing people to change or even recant their testimony, that's just very damaging. It's a scary thing in our world."
And this isn't the only time police say Barnes has tampered with an investigation.
According to police documents, Barnes also forced a woman in a domestic assault case in February to change her testimony leaving out the use of a gun. Yakima Police say Barnes has been involved in several cases where witnesses, victims and defendants changed their original statements made to law enforcement. The Sheriff's Office does not see this case as a pattern in the area.
"Every line of work you're going to have people who aren't so conscientious in what they do or work for their own agenda," Russell said. "And so I see her as the exception for private investigators and not the rule."
Barnes's family maintains her innocence.
"She is innocent," Barnes' sister Coti Soptich said. "Yeah she works people's cases but I mean there is always going to be an angry person on the other side, obviously. She didn't do anything illegal like they're saying."
Barnes' bail is set at $500,000. Her arraignment is scheduled for October 7th.