Ex-Fairview cop awaiting sentence blames media, seeks mercy
Disgraced former Fairview Township police officer Tyson Baker insists he has learned his lesson in a letter to his federal sentencing judge and admits to making "a terrible mistake." But while he writes he will "take accountability for my actions," he does not acknowledge in the letter that he stole federal money from what he thought was a drug dealer's vehicle during an FBI sting of him.
He also portrays himself as a victim of local news coverage and of public opinion.
"I ask that I be judged on what I truly did, not what has been publicized that I supposedly did," Baker wrote. "Since December of 2015, I have been defiled by the media ... (and am) not the monster the media made me out to be."
The cop-turned-criminal's letter insists he merely failed to "log in" evidence he took from the FBI sting car — $3,000 cash and a hidden camera he found in the vehicle — even though federal authorities have said he was specifically instructed not to go into the seized vehicle in the first place and that the money was planted because they suspected he would steal it.
In his letter to U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo, which is dated Jan. 8 and was included as an exhibit with a pre-sentence memorandum filed by defense attorney Jay Abom, Baker talks about how much he and his family have suffered.
"I spent five long and dark days in Dauphin County Prison, and that was without a doubt the most humbling time of my life," he wrote. Baker quotes the Bible in his letter's second paragraph, specifically 1 Peter 5:10, the gist of which is that suffering can strengthen a person.
'Betrayed' public trust: Baker's letter drew sharp criticism from Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe.
In his Friday sentencing memorandum to the court, filed jointly with U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler, Behe argued that Baker spent "an extraordinary amount of time" in his letter talking about how he and his family have suffered, as well as "arguing that he did not obstruct justice, denying relevant conduct, accusing the government of bad faith toward him, (and) begging for leniency for himself because of the hardship his conduct has caused himself and his family.
"His plea for leniency provides precious little in the way of addressing his betrayal of the public trust and the significant harm his conduct has caused," Behe wrote. "This speaks volumes toward what appears to be an attempt to diminish his criminal conduct and whether he has fully accepted responsibility for his offenses."
Baker, 42, of Corn Hill Road in Fairview Township, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday afternoon in Harrisburg's federal court. He pleaded guilty Sept. 6 to two counts of theft of federal funds.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and a half-million-dollar fine, but Behe has told The York Dispatch that Baker's federal sentencing guideline range is between 21 and 27 months in prison.
The background: Baker spent about 17 years with Fairview Township Police and before 2010 served on the York County Drug Task Force. He was placed on paid administrative leave in December 2015 after the federal case against him came to light and was fired by township supervisors Feb. 29, 2016.
He was charged federally after a fellow Fairview Township police officer became a confidential informant for the FBI and worked with the bureau to investigate Baker.
Behe has said 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 has said.
According to Behe, the unnamed Fairview Township officer who was acting as the FBI's informant obtained a warrant to search a home in the township in November 2015. 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, Behe has said.
The sting: Then in December 2015, the FBI set up a sting in which an 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 has said.
The agent carried $15,000 cash and 400 inert OxyContin pills in the vehicle, according to the prosecutor.
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, court records state. Behe said during Baker's guilty-plea hearing that Baker searched the vehicle without a warrant and described the garage where he had the vehicle towed as secluded.
While searching the vehicle, Baker found and removed one of several hidden cameras and also took $3,000 cash, according to Behe.
Baker "never submitted as evidence any of the cash or the camera that he removed," according to court records.
Monthslong probe: He also spoke with his co-worker, the FBI informant, about "how to lie to the FBI about the warrantless search of the vehicle and theft of money," according to the prosecution's sentencing memorandum.
"It cannot be disputed that, at the time the defendant was involved in the theft of money in November and December of 2015, Baker was and had been under investigation for many months by state and federal authorities for the very type of conduct for which he (pleaded guilty)," Behe wrote.
The prosecutor also argues Baker doesn't deserve a break in sentencing because he's "falsely denying readily provable relevant conduct."
As an example, the prosecution's sentencing memorandum notes that federally convicted drug dealer Azim Showell received a negotiated sentence reduction — from 147 months to 70 months — because he likely could have won at a new trial, based on his allegation Baker had stolen thousands of dollars of drug money when Fairview Township police pulled over Showell and arrested him in 2012.
"The defendant attempts to whitewash the ripple effect from his criminal conduct," Behe wrote. "(Baker) himself and through counsel at several stages of these proceedings have characterized the defendant's conduct as just simple or petty theft. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Baker's letter to the the judge states: "This incident consisted of two dates ... and is very simple and not of such grandeur it was made out to be."
'Eventually' confessed: On Dec. 18, 2015, two days after the FBI sting, 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, according to Behe.
Instead, Baker was arrested and questioned. He initially denied wrongdoing but eventually confessed to the two thefts, Behe has said.
In fact, he had some of the stolen cash with him at the time of his questioning, the prosecutor said.
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 spent money building a very large home on 10 acres of property. The informant also said Baker 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, court records state.
Letters of support: Other attachments to the defense's sentencing memorandum include copies of numerous awards and commendations given to Baker over the years, as well as copies of letters and emails sent to his former chiefs that praised his abilities as a police officer and letters written directly to Judge Rambo by friends, family and Fairview Township residents.
Those letters describe a caring, hardworking officer.
York County resident Jeanna Gettys recalled in her letter that Baker was dispatched to her home in 2000 after her 3-year-old daughter called 911.
"Brand new to the force, Tyson handled himself with professionalism and compassion as my daughter stood there and cried, scared that she was in trouble," Gettys wrote, adding Baker comforted the tot and calmed her down.
"Now fast forward 14 years later, and our family had yet another meeting with Tyson," Gettys wrote.
'Truly interested': The same daughter, now a teen, was involved in a crash that totaled her car and left her with minor injuries.
Although not dispatched to the crash, Baker arrived and comforted the family, hugging Gettys and her daughter, according to the letter, which states Baker "has always been very friendly and truly interested in how we were all doing."
Ryan Underwood wrote that Baker donated all his time and labor to help Underwood install a putting green at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg's home for retired priests, a project which earned Underwood the rank of Eagle Scout.
"Being a police officer has been my identity for half of my life," Baker wrote in his letter to the judge. "Helping and protecting others was all I ever wanted to do."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.