Fairview Twp. cop arraigned in federal theft case
A Fairview Township police officer on Tuesday pleaded not guilty in Harrisburg's federal court to stealing money from drug traffickers and trying to cover it up.
Tyson Baker, 41, of Corn Hill Road in the township, was indicted Jan. 27 by a federal grand jury on charges of taking property to prevent its seizure, two counts of obstruction of justice, three counts pertaining to the filing false reports and one count of theft of government property.
He had been charged with robbery under the federal Hobbs Act but was not subsequently indicted on that charge, which was then dismissed, according to documents.
His attorney, Jay Abom, said they are awaiting discovery evidence from prosecutors.
"We have to assess the evidence and look at our legal and factual defenses, then make a decision on how to proceed," Abom said.
Asked about whether the case could end in a negotiated plea agreement, the attorney expressed doubt.
"Absent of them withdrawing the charges at this time, I don't foresee (a plea)," Abom said.
Baker maintains his innocence, Abom has said.
Baker faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison on each of the obstruction and tampering charges, 10 years for the theft charge and five years for each remaining charge.
Home detention: He remains free on house detention and must wear an electronically monitored ankle cuff, according to court records. He must remain at his home except for specific destinations such as work, church, court hearings and medical appointments, records state.
He's not allowed to drink alcohol, use or possess drugs including anabolic steroids, and he had to turn over all weapons to the FBI, according to documents.
Baker, a 17-year veteran of the Fairview Township Police Department, was placed on administrative leave Dec. 17, according to the department. That's the same day he was initially charged by federal authorities.
Baker's current employment status could not be obtained on Tuesday. Township manager Donald Martin III referred comment to township Police Chief Jason Loper, who declined comment on the advice of township solicitor David Jones.
But attorney Paula Knudsen, director of government affairs and legislative counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said the public is entitled to know the names, salaries, titles and employment statuses of public employees.
"It's basic public information," she said. "Is the person employed? And if so, in what capacity?"
Jones could not be reached for comment.
The allegations: In November, Baker orchestrated the theft of $2,000 in drug money seized by police during a drug raid that resulted in the seizure of about $14,000 and several pounds of marijuana, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
A confidential informant told investigators that Baker was sexually involved with a prostitute who would tell Baker when drug traffickers would be driving through Fairview Township, and what they would have with them, court documents state. The informant said the prostitute has since moved out of the township and is "in fear of Baker," documents state.
Baker was seen on occasion with large amounts of cash, documents state. The informant told investigators that days after Baker pulled over a drug dealer, he was seen buying drinks "for everyone" at a local bar, according to documents, which state the informant believes Baker stole between $5,000 and $10,000 from that dealer.
There was $10,000 in cash seized during that vehicle stop, but the drug dealer — who was later convicted — claimed there had been $20,000 cash in the car, according to officials.
FBI sting: The FBI then recorded a conversation between Baker and the informant on Sept. 4 in which the men talked about the fact that a drug dealer was expected to drive through the area. Baker allegedly said, "That sounds like a rip to me, a straight out rip ... that will do some good," according to court documents.
The FBI arranged for an undercover agent to be stopped by Fairview Township Police, with help from the informant. After the stop, Baker had the vehicle towed from the scene, officials allege.
The feds had hidden $15,000 and 400 fake OxyContin pills in the car, and a hidden camera caught Baker going through the bag of cash and taking some out, documents allege.
Baker previously served on the York County Drug Task Force but left prior to 2010, according to Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney's Office.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.