Convicted Fairview Twp. cop's sentencing set in federal court
A sentencing date in federal court has been set for a fired Fairview Township police officer convicted four months ago of stealing cash and falsifying documents to cover it up.
Tyson Baker, 43, is scheduled to be sentenced at 10 a.m. Monday, March 12, in Courtroom No. 3 of Harrisburg's federal courthouse by presiding U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Sylvia Rambo, according to court records.
Jurors took 3½ hours to convict Baker, 43, of five of six federal counts against him — for twice stealing cash, for impeding federal investigations by stealing the money, for knowingly falsifying a police document in one of those thefts to impede a federal investigation and for willfully or knowingly making false statements to the FBI.
Baker was acquitted of falsifying a police document in the second theft.
'Ugly thoughts': Baker took the stand in his own defense at trial, saying he had "ugly, ugly thoughts" about taking drug dealers' cash as a "temporary fix" to solve his own financial problems.
He told the jury that he, his wife and his wife's parents together built a large home in Fairview Township and intended to pay for it together as well as live there together.
Baker said the foursome agreed his in-laws would babysit his two children, and that he and his wife would care for her parents as they aged. But the plan crumbled when his parents-in-law died of cancer in 2013 and 2014. His wife, Shannon, also developed cancer in 2014; she survived.
Huge home: Now saddled with all the bills, the Bakers contemplated selling the home, he said. The house is more than 4,000 square feet inside, sits on 8 acres and is valued at more than $500,000, according to Trulia.com and Zillow.com.
"We were struggling badly," he testified, but they chose not to sell.
Baker didn't know it at the time, but his co-worker, Fairview Township Police Sgt. Mike Bennage, had been reluctantly recruited by the FBI and the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office to keep an eye on Baker after those agencies expressed "concerns" about Baker.
Bennage testified at trial that he shared those concerns but hoped the FBI was wrong and agreed to work with them because it was the right thing to do.
Jurors weren't told what those concerns entailed or how long state and federal agencies shared them.
The background: Baker stole $1,000 of a township drug dealer's cash after the man was arrested by Bennage on Nov. 20, 2015, during a drug raid.
The raid was unrelated to the FBI's investigation of Baker, although Bennage was by that time working with the feds.
Bennage testified that Baker told him in spring 2015 they needed to start ripping off drug dealers to help the two cops pay their bills.
Bennage also told jurors he helped carry out a Dec. 16, 2015, sting of Baker that led to Baker's arrest two days later.
During the sting, the FBI had Bennage pull over a Lincoln Navigator with New York plates, then call Baker for backup.
The Navigator was really an undercover FBI vehicle and the driver an undercover FBI agent with a created drug-trafficking "warrant" from the FBI that the officers would find when they ran the agent's assumed name through a national warrant database.
Ordered not to search: FBI Special Agent Geoff Ford testified at trial that both officers were repeatedly told by the FBI not to search the vehicle — merely to have it towed to a secure impound area, testimony revealed.
It was Baker, alone, who oversaw having the Navigator towed.
One of two surveillance camera systems hidden inside the SUV showed Baker searching through the trunk of the Navigator, including through a brown paper bag that had been zipped into a duffel bag by the FBI.
Inside the paper bag was $15,000 in marked bills and several hundred inert, or fake, narcotics pills.
Baker took $3,000 of the cash and later gave $1,000 of it to Bennage, who turned over his "cut" to the FBI.
Baker also found one of the camera surveillance systems and, brow furrowed, ripped it out of the Navigator and stole it.
Taped confession: Under questioning by the FBI on Dec. 18, 2015, Baker repeatedly denied taking any money from any investigation, and jurors saw the taped police interview.
But after being told he was on camera doing so, he confessed in fits and starts, and said he had a number of outstanding bills.
When he was cross-examined at trial, Baker was forced to admit that the $2,000 he kept of the FBI sting money wasn't spent on his family's outstanding bills. Rather, he bought beer and paid off a layaway bill for a custom-made knife at a local tactical store.
Baker spent 17 years as a Fairview Township Police officer but was fired after being charged.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.