Ex-Fairview cop's sentencing 'scuttled,' plea withdrawn
Disgraced former Fairview Township police officer Tyson Baker expected to learn how much time he would spend in federal prison at his sentencing hearing Tuesday afternoon. Instead, things fell apart quickly.
Presiding U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Sylvia Rambo opened the hearing by voicing concern over a letter Baker wrote to her. The York Dispatch reported about the letter Monday. It was included in the defense's sentencing memorandum.
In the letter, Baker writes he will "take accountability" for his actions. But he does not acknowledge he actually stole money, at least in one of two incidents to which he previously pleaded guilty.
The portion that troubled Rambo was a paragraph in which Baker wrote that he didn't know money a fellow officer — who Baker didn't know at the time was an FBI informant — had put in his private vehicle was stolen.
Despite that, Baker wrote, "I did not decline its acceptance." Because he accepted the money, he wrote, he would "accept responsibility for receiving this money."
Rambo read aloud that portion of the defendant's letter, then said, "I do not believe that encompasses the elements of the crime," because he didn't admit he knew the money was stolen.
She then asked if Baker would like to withdraw his guilty plea.
Defense attorney Jay Abom tried to argue that Baker previously admitted to accepting money he knew had been stolen, but Rambo was quick to respond.
"That's not what this statement says," the judge replied. "He still does not admit the first part of the elements of the crime."
Denying guilt? Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe went even further, telling the judge that Baker "appears to be denying" guilt.
Rambo granted Abom's request for a recess so he could speak with his client.
Baker and Abom were holed up in a conference room for some time, and at one point Abom returned to the courtroom and retrieved Behe. Both men left the courtroom together.
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Once the hearing reconvened, Abom informed the judge that Baker would be withdrawing one of his two guilty pleas.
Rambo gave prosecutors until Jan. 31 to decide whether to take Baker to trial on all his original charges or whether to simply agree to allow him to be sentenced on the remaining theft charge to which he previously pleaded guilty.
Surprise: "This is a surprise to us, and we want the opportunity (to consider)," Behe told the judge. "He essentially scuttled the entire proceeding. ... I think that speaks volumes."
At that point, Abom again argued his client "has accepted responsibility" for his actions.
"Mr. Baker did not come here today intending to do this," he told the judge, but she was unmoved.
Behe then said he doesn't agree with anything Abom had said about Baker accepting responsibility.
If federal prosecutors decide Baker should stand trial, it will start Feb. 21, Rambo ordered.
Behe asked the judge to reconsider Baker's bail conditions, noting the ex-cop "should have been ... prepared to go to jail today."
On house arrest: Baker has been on "home detention," or house arrest, for more than a year, after having spent five days locked up on his federal case. He must wear an electronic-monitoring ankle cuff.
Behe argued Baker has "whittled away" at his bail conditions by getting permission to leave his home for purposes other than work, court appearances and medical appointments.
"It's almost as if there is no home detention," Behe argued to Rambo.
Attended banquet: Baker's online court record shows he was given permission to travel out of York County and to attend various functions — most recently the Dec. 4 Red Land midget football/cheerleader banquet.
But Abom argued Baker has not violated his bail conditions and is working.
Rambo said she will review Baker's bail conditions with his federal probation officer.
"I may reconsider the conditions of bail," she said, adding that for now she was denying Behe's request.
Abom and Behe declined comment after the hearing.
The background: Baker, 42, of Corn Hill Road in Fairview Township, spent about 17 years with Fairview Township Police and prior to 2010 served on the York County Drug Task Force.
He was charged after a fellow Fairview Township police officer became a confidential informant for the FBI and worked with them to investigate Baker.
According to Behe, Baker talked with the informant in the spring and summer of 2015 about stealing money from drug traffickers driving through Fairview Township.
Prosecutors said Baker and the confidential informant stole and shared $2,000 cash the informant skimmed during a drug raid at a township home. The informant turned over his share to the FBI, officials have said.
Then on Dec. 16, 2015, 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 has said.
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 without a warrant and took $3,000 cash and a hidden camera he found inside, Behe has said, although he missed at least one other hidden camera.
Baker never submitted as evidence any of the cash or the camera that he removed, according to court records.
Confessed: On Dec. 18, 2015, 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, he was arrested and questioned, and eventually he confessed to two thefts, the prosecutor has said.
Fairview Township Police placed Baker on paid administrative leave in December 2015. Township supervisors fired him Feb. 29, 2016.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.