Federal trial likely for ex-Fairview cop accused of theft
It appears former Fairview Township police officer Tyson Baker will stand trial for his purported crimes.
On Friday afternoon, his attorney filed a motion in federal court asking that the disgraced ex-cop be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea on his one remaining count of theft, according to court records.
Baker had a plea agreement in place with federal prosecutors until Jan. 17, when U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Sylvia Rambo insisted he clearly admit guilt before she would sentence him. When he declined to do that, she presided as he withdrew one of his two guilty pleas to theft.
He was expected to be sentenced at that Jan. 17 hearing. Instead, Rambo gave the U.S. Attorney's Office until Tuesday to decide whether to take Baker to trial or simply agree to let him be sentenced on one felony count of theft of government property.
She said if there is a trial, it will begin Feb. 21.
But it appears federal prosecutors didn't have to make a decision, because Baker made it for them with Friday's motion.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Dawn Mayko and Baker's defense attorney, Jay Abom, both declined comment after the motion was filed.
Abom's motion states the plea agreement requires "two counts of conviction," and that prosecutors are unwilling to accept Baker's partial admission to events as being sufficient for his plea to be reinstated for the count at issue.
The attorney characterized it as a package deal.
"Mr. Baker cannot admit to additional facts which did not occur," Abom wrote, and "the parties are therefore unable to proceed with the plea agreement."
On 'lockdown': Also at the Jan. 17 hearing, Rambo said she would review Baker's bail conditions, which had him on home detention, after Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe complained Baker had "whittled away" at those conditions by repeatedly 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 said.
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."
Letter became issue: Baker incurred Rambo's ire by writing her a letter that Abom submitted as an exhibit with Baker's sentencing memorandum.
In the letter, Baker wrote he will "take accountability" for his actions. But he does not acknowledge he actually stole money, at least in one of the two incidents to which he previously had 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 at the Jan. 17 hearing. She then said his admission wasn't enough to satisfy the elements of the crime and allowed him to withdraw the plea on that theft count, despite Abom arguing his client's admission was enough for the plea in that count to stand.
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 was for the 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.