Federal trial delayed for ex-Fairview Twp. cop

Liz Evans Scolforo

The federal trial of fired Fairview Township officer Tyson Baker has been postponed until September.

On Tuesday, U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Sylvia Rambo granted a defense motion seeking the delay because Baker's Philadelphia-based defense attorney, Jack McMahon, had a scheduling conflict, according to court records.

Tyson Baker

Trial had been scheduled to begin June 12 in Harrisburg's federal court.

Rambo rescheduled the trial to start at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 11, according to her order, which states the trial is expected to last seven days.

Baker, 42, of Corn Hill Road in Fairview Township, waived his right to a speedy trial, according to court records.

He had been on  "24-hour-a-day lockdown" at his home awaiting trial, but Rambo recently eased the former officer's bail conditions.

Baker's bail conditions were changed from home detention to the more restrictive home lockdown  Jan. 18 by Rambo, a day after prosecutors complained Baker had "whittled away" at those conditions by repeatedly getting permission to leave home for purposes other than work, court appearances and medical appointments.

No more lockdown: On April 21, Rambo ordered that Baker will again be on home detention rather than home lockdown.

That means he's restricted to his house and yard but can leave for work, his children's school and extracurricular activities, church, medical appointments, attorney visits, court appearances, court-related obligations and to drive his wife to her medical appointments.

Rambo's order was in response to a March 30 motion filed by McMahon that asked her to re-impose Baker's original conditions and argued Baker never violated any of his conditions.

The motion called the lockdown a "punitive order" that happened immediately after Baker "chose to exercise his constitutional right to trial and not accept the plea agreement" he had initially entered into.

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"Changing the order to more restrictive and onerous conditions under such facts can only be seen as using the Bail Reform Act as (a) punishing/disciplinary tool rather than for the recognized goals of (public) safety and appearance at court," McMahon wrote. "Bail is never to be used as punishment (or) retaliation."

Sentencing scuttled: A March 1 filing by McMahon states that Baker initially pleaded guilty to two counts of his federal theft indictment because of his "simple desire to get it over with and move on" and not because he's guilty.

Baker had a plea agreement in place with federal prosecutors until Jan. 17, when Rambo — responding to a letter from Baker in which he failed to accept responsibility in one of the thefts — insisted in open court that he clearly admit guilt before she would sentence him. When he declined to do that on one of his two counts, she presided as Baker said he was withdrawing one of his two guilty pleas to theft.

He was expected to be sentenced at that Jan. 17 hearing. Instead, Rambo instructed the U.S. Attorney's Office 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.

Tyson Baker

'Package deal': On Feb. 3, Baker's former attorney, Jay Abom, filed a motion asking that Baker be allowed to withdraw his remaining guilty plea, arguing the two-count plea agreement was "a package deal."

McMahon's March 1 brief in support of Abom's motion states that Baker wants to take his case to trial.

"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," McMahon wrote.

Rambo granted the defense request, meaning Baker will now face trial on the two theft counts as well as other original charges that would have been dismissed as part of a plea agreement. They include destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations and destruction or removal of property to prevent seizure.

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The background: Baker 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 Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe, Baker talked with the informant in the spring and summer of 2015 about stealing money from drug traffickers driving through Fairview Township.

Behe has said Baker and the confidential informant stole and shared $2,000 cash that the informant skimmed during a drug raid at a township home in November 2015. The informant turned over his share to the FBI.

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, according to Behe.

$15K worth of bait: The undercover agent posing as a drug trafficker carried $15,000 cash and 400 inert OxyContin pills, Behe said.

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 FBI not to search the vehicle, according to court records.

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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, although Baker missed at least one other hidden camera, according to Behe.

Baker never submitted as evidence any of the cash or the camera that he removed, Behe 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 levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.