Convicted ex-Fairview Twp. cop loses his federal appeal
A federal appeals court has upheld the felony theft conviction of former Fairview Township cop Tyson Baker.
Baker, 44, is serving a 3½-year federal sentence for twice stealing cash while on duty from those he believed to be drug dealers.
His release date is April 15, 2021, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons, and he is being held at a prison in Glenville, West Virginia.
Baker, through defense attorney Jack McMahon, appealed his conviction to the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Three judges reviewed the appeal and on Friday, May 24, affirmed Baker's conviction.
Baker's appeal argued that he was the victim of entrapment; that his wife should have been allowed to testify about their financial woes; and that jurors should have received legal instruction from the judge that to be guilty of theft, Baker had to intend to permanently keep the money.
The appeals court ruled there was no entrapment; that Baker himself testified about the couple's financial problems; and that no extra legal instruction was warranted.
Baker had claimed at trial that he only intended to keep the stolen cash temporarily. But prosecutors made sure jurors understood that there was no way for Baker to return that cash, which should have been logged in as evidence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Behe has said 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. Baker had claimed he needed the cash to pay bills.
Some criminal cases against defendants in York County Court had to be dropped because Baker's charges could have tainted them, Behe has said.
The background: Jurors took 3½ hours Sept. 14, 2017, 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.
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 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 reluctantly 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.
In April, U.S. Attorney David Freed honored Bennage, noting in a statement that the sergeant showed "extreme courage and commitment to duty" by working with the FBI.
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.
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. Prior to 2010, he also served on the York County Drug Task Force.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.