Pot dealer: Tyson Baker said I was lucky I met him

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A former Fairview Township drug dealer said that after police busted him with 7 pounds of pot and nearly $15,000 in cash,  former Fairview Township Police Officer Tyson Baker took him home.

"He said I was lucky that I met him," Christopher Witmer testified Tuesday, Sept. 12, during the second day of Baker's federal trial.

Witmer, 22, now living in Lancaster County, testified for the prosecution that he was at a home in the Green Lane Manor development in Fairview Township on Nov. 20, 2015, when township police raided it and caught him with the pot and cash in his car trunk.

Tyson Baker

The raid was led by township police Sgt. Mike Bennage, who also was working undercover for the FBI to watch Baker, whom state and federal agencies had "concerns" about, according to testimony. The raid was not part of the Baker investigation until he inserted himself, testimony indicated.

A now-recovering heroin addict who has plans to finish college, Witmer told jurors he realized he was going to jail.

"I overheard I was to be taken to booking and then to York County Prison," he said.

Then Officer Baker arrived, and instead of being criminally charged, Witmer was driven to Fairview Township Police headquarters, with Baker asking him a few questions on the short drive, all related to Witmer's seized cash.

"He asked me if I knew how much I had, if I owed anyone the money or if it was all mine," Witmer told jurors.

The questions primarily focused on whether Witmer knew how much cash he had in his trunk, he testified.

At the station, Baker and Bennage questioned Witmer for an hour or two, he said.

Bought him smokes: Then Baker drove Witmer home, stopping at a convenience store along the way to buy Witmer a pack of cigarettes, according to Witmer. That's when Baker told Witmer he was lucky he'd met Baker, Witmer said.

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe whether he ever asked police for his money back, Witmer was quick to respond.

"Absolutely not. I was lucky," he testified. "I didn't want to agitate the situation."

Witmer said he was never charged but that no promises have been made to him and that he believes charges could still be filed.

Witmer also confirmed he never did any work for police or drug detectives in exchange for not being arrested.

Surveillance video: Also testifying Tuesday was FBI Special Agent Geoff Ford.

As Ford explained what was happening, prosecutors showed jurors video of Baker rummaging through an SUV, then through a paper bag in the trunk area filled with cash and fake OxyContin pills.

Baker apparently believed the Lincoln Navigator belonged to a drug trafficker wanted by the FBI, and he had been told by the FBI not to search the vehicle — merely to get it towed to a secure impounding facility, Ford said.

In reality, the "dealer" was an undercover FBI agent, and the cash and pills had been planted to see what Baker would do when left alone with them on Dec. 16, 2015.

The FBI hid two surveillance cameras inside to watch, testimony indicated.

Baker took $3,000 from the bag, then found and ripped out the camera hidden in the trunk area, according to the video and to Ford's testimony. 

Furrowed brow: In the video, Baker's brow furrowed as he realized he was looking at a camera.

Jurors also saw Baker's videotaped interview and confession, which happened Dec. 18, 2015, at the FBI's Harrisburg office.

In it, Baker repeatedly denied ever stealing money but eventually confessed, citing bills to battle his wife's breast cancer as well as other outstanding bills.

On the tape, he talked about an incident in which he previously had been accused of taking a drug dealer's money, but Baker said the allegation wasn't true.

Baker insisted the two incidents the FBI was aware of were the only two in which he ever stole anything, calling himself "an unlucky f—er" for getting caught.

During his confession, Baker told Ford and FBI Special Agent Bruce Doupe he was merely trying to get by.

"I've embarrassed myself and embarrassed my profession," he says.

Comfortable home: Shortly thereafter, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Consiglio began showing jurors photos of the Baker home in Fairview Township after making a comment about the Bakers "just getting by."

The home is large and has an attached garage with a pole barn next to it. It also has a swimming pool, putting green and outdoor bar-type area, the photos showed.

The interior was fully decorated, including a full-size arcade game in a family or recreation-type room and a full bar with pool table in the basement. The pole barn also was filled with high-end items, including a John Deere Gator.

Baker's home is valued at more than $500,000, according to estimates from Zillow.com and Trulia.com, has more than 4,000 finished square feet inside and sits on more than 8 acres of land. The house has at least four bedrooms and four bathrooms, according to the online sites.

McMahon, the defense attorney, maintains Baker had $20,000 worth of unpaid medical bills to treat his wife's cancer and was struggling.

But Ford told jurors he found no evidence Baker paid medical bills with the stolen cash. Ford said Baker used some of it to buy beer and tactical equipment he had on layaway.

More:Tyson Baker's fellow cop wore wire, helped FBI make case

More:Ex-Fairview cop's sentencing 'scuttled,' plea withdrawn

Tyson Baker

Baker, 43, remains free on bail, charged with destruction or removal of property to prevent seizure; destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations; and taking federal money.

He spent 17 years as a Fairview Township Police officer but was fired after being criminally charged in federal court.

Trial is set to resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.