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Federal prison time likely for fired Fairview Twp. cop
A federal prosecutor said he expects former Fairview Township police officer Tyson Baker will spend time in prison for stealing federal funds, which he thought were the proceeds of drug traffickers.
Baker, 42, of Corn Hill Road, appeared in Harrisburg's federal court Tuesday morning and pleaded guilty to two count of theft of federal funds.
Presiding U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo told the disgraced former officer that he potentially is facing up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe said the federal sentencing guideline range is between 21 and 27 months in prison.
Baker spent about 17 years with Fairview Township Police and prior to 2010 served on the York County Drug Task Force.
Baker was charged after a fellow Fairview Township police officer became a confidential informant for the FBI and worked with them to investigate Baker.
Rambo allowed Baker to remain free pending sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled. She ordered a pre-sentence investigation be completed by Nov. 1.
Rambo warned the ex-cop to "refrain from making any comments about your charges on social media," and also warned him not to have any contact with witnesses in the case.
Apology: Baker did not respond to a reporter's question as he left the courtroom.
His defense attorney, Jay Abom, released an emailed statement that read, in part: "Tyson Baker apologizes to the residents of Fairview Township and York County and to his family and friends. He thanks those who have supported him before and after this matter was initiated. Tyson continues to make his amends, and pleading guilty ... is another step in this direction."
Outside the courtroom, Behe said Baker's thefts could have an impact on the perception of law enforcement in the area.
"Whittling away at the esteem of law enforcement" is "something that really affects the work of prosecutors and the perception of the public," Behe said.
"If you get that doubt in the back of jurors' minds ... it's hard to erase that," he said.
Talked about stealing: Behe told the judge that during the spring and summer of 2015, Baker talked with the informant about stealing money from drug traffickers driving through Fairview Township. On Sept. 4, 2015, the FBI secretly recorded a conversation between Baker and the informant during which Baker "expressed a desire to steal" from drug dealers, Behe said.
Behe told Judge Rambo that on Nov. 20, the unnamed officer who was acting as the FBI's informant obtained a warrant to search a home in the township. Multiple pounds of marijuana and stacks of cash were seized, he said.
Baker later took $2,000 of that cash and split it 50-50 with the informant, who turned over "his" portion to the FBI, according to Behe.
Asked by the judge to respond, Baker said, "I do agree I received $1,000 ... from the confidential informant."
Then on Dec. 16, the FBI set up a sting in which an FBI agent posed as a drug trafficker driving through Fairview Township, the plan being for the confidential informant/officer to pull over the agent and alert Baker, Behe told the judge.
FBI sting: The undercover agent posing as a drug trafficker carried $15,000 cash and 400 inert OxyContin pills, according to Behe.
A short time after Baker was called to act as backup, he was contacted by the FBI and told the "trafficker" was under federal investigation; Baker was instructed by the feds not to search the vehicle, according to court records.
Despite that, Baker had the vehicle towed to a nearby garage, where he searched it, records state. Behe told the judge that Baker searched the vehicle without a warrant and that the garage where he had the vehicle towed was "secluded."
While searching the vehicle, Baker found and removed one of the hidden cameras in the vehicle and also took $3,000 cash, Behe said in court. He gave $1,000 of it to the confidential informant, who returned it to the feds, court records state.
Baker "never submitted as evidence any of the cash or the camera that he removed," according to court records.
'Eventually confessed': Two days later, on Dec. 18, Baker went to the Harrisburg office of the FBI, where he expected to be interviewed about the traffic stop of the "drug dealer" who was really undercover FBI, Behe said.
Instead, Baker was arrested and read his Miranda rights, then questioned about his activities, Behe said, adding Baker initially denied wrongdoing.
"Mr. Baker eventually confessed to the two thefts," Behe said in court Tuesday.
In fact, he had some of the stolen cash with him at the time, the prosecutor said.
Fairview Township Police placed Baker on paid administrative leave in December. On Feb. 29, township supervisors fired him.
Big spender: According to court records, the confidential informant told the FBI that Baker was the sole provider for his family and made $89,000 a year, but despite that spent money building a "very large" home on 10 acres of property, then built a 40-by-60-foot pole barn, a putting green and an in-ground swimming pool, finished his basement and also bought a $35,000 tractor and a new Ford F-150 truck.
Baker was seen on occasion with large amounts of cash, records state.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.