Ex-Fairview cop pleaded guilty to 'get it over with,' attorney says
Disgraced former Fairview Township police officer Tyson Baker's new attorney has filed a memorandum in Harrisburg's federal court supporting Baker's earlier request to withdraw the one remaining guilty plea in his theft case.
Philadelphia-based attorney Jack McMahon's Wednesday filing suggests Baker pleaded guilty because of his "simple desire to get it over with and move on" and not because he's guilty.
The filing also states that Baker hired McMahon "to fight the allegations of criminality," meaning take Baker's case to trial.
Baker had a plea agreement in place with federal prosecutors until Jan. 17, when presiding U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Sylvia Rambo insisted that he clearly admit guilt before she would sentence him. When he declined to do that on one of his two counts, she allowed him to withdraw 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 a few days 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.
A short time later, Baker's former attorney, Jay Abom, filed a motion Feb. 3 asking that Baker be allowed to withdraw his remaining guilty plea.
Abom's motion states that the plea agreement requires "two counts of conviction" for two separate incidents, 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."
'Get it over with': Since then, Abom petitioned the court to allow him to withdraw as Baker's attorney. Rambo granted the request Feb. 21, according to court records, which state that McMahon entered his notice of appearance Feb. 13.
"(Baker) does assert his innocence of the actual crimes that are part of the plea. (He) has engaged new counsel to fully prepare and defend the criminality of both the November and December incidents," McMahon's filing states. "Defendant's original plea agreement was motivated not so much as an admission of criminality but more motivated by the simple desire to get it over with and move on."
The day after Baker's sentencing hearing was scuttled, Rambo restricted 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 modified his bail conditions after Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe complained that Baker had "whittled away" at his home-detention 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 at the time.
The background: Baker incurred Rambo's ire by writing her a letter that Abom submitted as an exhibit with Baker's sentencing memorandum. It's that letter that led to his plea agreement falling apart.
In it, Baker wrote he will "take accountability" for his actions. But he does not acknowledge that 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 had put in his private vehicle was stolen. That fellow officer was an FBI informant, but Baker didn't know it at the time.
Despite not knowing the money was stolen, 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 sentencing 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.
Baker then withdrew his guilty plea to that offense.
FBI sting: Baker, 42, of Corn Hill Road in Fairview Township, spent about 17 years with Fairview Township Police and served on the York County Drug Task Force prior to 2010.
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.
$15K worth of bait: 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 email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.