Federal judge restricts ex-Fairview cop to house arrest
When disgraced former Fairview Township police officer Tyson Baker's sentencing hearing fell apart in Harrisburg's federal court last week, his prosecutor complained in open court that Baker's federal home detention was inadequate.
"It's almost as if there is no home detention," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe told presiding U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Sylvia Rambo at the Jan. 17 hearing.
Baker had been on home detention 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 that Baker had "whittled away" at his bail conditions by getting permission to leave his home for purposes other than work, court appearances and medical appointments.
Baker's online court record shows he was allowed to travel out of York County and to attend various functions — most recently the Dec. 4 Red Land midget football/cheerleader banquet.
Rambo told Behe she would review Baker's bail conditions and might reconsider them.
The judge did a bit more than that.
On Jan. 18, Rambo issued an order changing Baker's home detention to home incarceration. The order restricts him to "24-hour-a-day lockdown at his residence, except for medical necessities and court appearances, or other activities approved by the court," she wrote.
Baker's attorney, Jay Abom, declined comment Tuesday, except to confirm what he told Rambo in court last week — that Baker is and has been in compliance with all his bail conditions.
Hearing scuttled: Rambo opened Baker's sentencing hearing by voicing concern over a letter Baker wrote to her, which 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 township 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.
Abom argued 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? Behe went even further, telling the judge that Baker appeared to be denying guilt.
Rambo granted Abom's request for a recess, after which the attorney told her Baker would be withdrawing one of his two guilty pleas.
The judge 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.
If federal prosecutors decide Baker should stand trial, it will start Feb. 21, Rambo ordered.
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 the agency 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 Baker missed at least one other hidden camera.
Fairview Township Police placed Baker on paid administrative leave in December 2015. Township supervisors fired him Feb. 29, 2016.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.