Fairview cop turned thief gets 3-1/2 years in federal prison
Convicted thief and former Fairview Township cop Tyson Baker must serve 3½ years in federal prison for twice stealing cash while on duty from those he believed to be drug dealers.
"Mr. Baker's conduct tarnishes the reputation of police officers in general," Senior U.S. Middle District Judge Sylvia Rambo said as she handed down his punishment on Monday, March 12, in Harrisburg's federal court.
She ordered him to pay $1,000 in restitution to Fairview Township Police. He stole that amount from the department as it was being logged in as evidence of a drug raid.
She also ordered him to pay $330 in restitution to the FBI, for cash Baker stole that had been planted in a sting SUV. Baker had been made to think the SUV belonged to an out-of-town drug dealer.
Jurors determined Baker stole $3,000 of FBI money during that sting. The FBI was able to get back all of that money except the $330, which he must still pay.
Rambo ordered Baker to report for imprisonment April 2 and fined him $500.
She said she imposed the 42 months' incarceration — which falls in the middle of standard sentencing guidelines — because his actions cast a cloud on other police officers and because she wanted the sentence to serve as a deterrent to police in the future.
Baker, 43, of Fairview Township, spoke in court, as did his wife and three friends. He apologized to Rambo, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, his family, friends, Fairview Township and the state of Pennsylvania.
'It's been an emotional burden," he said, and one that also was borne by his wife, Shannon Baker, and their two minor children.
"I loved being a police officer. I loved helping people," he said. "I can't be sorry enough. All I want to do is help people and take care of my wife and children."
He declined comment after the hearing.
Lost job, pension, respect: Defense attorney Jack McMahon told Rambo that Baker is a good husband and father whose behavior during the time of the thefts was "clearly aberrational" and who lost his job, his pension and his standing in the community. He suffered humiliation and embarrassment, the Philadelphia attorney said.
Baker and McMahon maintained he stole the money because Shannon Baker's cancer treatments and the unexpected cancer deaths of her parents left the Bakers in financial straits.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe argued Baker spent the cash on himself — on beer, on a custom tactical knife he had on layaway and on other items Baker apparently was unable to remember on the witness stand during trial.
"It was walking-around money for Mr. Baker, and that was the point of the thefts," Behe said in court, then added that Baker talked about himself "again" while addressing Rambo.
Behe read excerpts from a letter submitted by Fairview Township Police Chief Jason Loper, which stated in part that people began questioning the integrity of his officers because of Baker.
Loper also wrote that Baker's arrest caused morale to initially drop among Fairview Township's officers, according to Behe, and that the department is still working to restore the community's trust in the department.
Some criminal cases against other defendants in York County Court had to be dropped because Baker's charges could have tainted them, Behe said.
Motivated by greed? In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, federal prosecutors argued Baker was "motivated solely by personal greed."
Three of Baker's friends spoke in court, most asking for mercy, as did his wife.
"This isn't who he is," Shannon Baker told the judge. "He'll never forgive himself."
She said she and her family weren't "asking for a free ride" but were asking for mercy.
Fred Seifert, the chaplain for Fairview Township's police and fire departments, said he loves Baker, whom he described as being "deeply embedded" in the community.
"I have witnessed amazing compassion from this man (while on the job)," Seifert said.
And friend Emerick Radic, who hired Baker about nine months ago at his Lemoyne business, Green Trail Solutions, said the ex-cop came in early, worked late and did anything that needed to be done.
Radic told the judge that the day after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, he drove his daughter to school.
"Who do I see but Tyson Baker in full uniform ... greeting all the kids with a smile" and giving them high-fives and reassuring them, he recounted. "This went on for a week or two."
The background: Jurors took 3½ hours Sept. 14 to convict Baker 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.
He 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.
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.
Stole drug money: 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: During questioning by the FBI on Dec. 18, 2015, Baker repeatedly denied taking any money from any investigation, and trial 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.