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United States v. Baker

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 23, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
TYSON BAKER

          MEMORANDUM

          SYLVIA H. RAMBO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant Tyson Baker pled guilty to two separate violations of 18 U.S.C. § 641 related to his alleged theft of drug trafficking proceeds. At sentencing, Defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea as to one count and the court requested briefing from the parties. Defendant subsequently replaced court-appointed counsel with retained counsel. Presently before the court is Defendant's motion to reject the plea agreement and withdraw his guilty pleas as to both counts contained therein. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Relevant Facts & Procedural History

         Defendant was employed as a police officer by the Fairview Township Police Department, located in York County, Pennsylvania, for seventeen years. (Doc. 25, ¶ 1.) At various times during his tenure as a police officer, Defendant worked on drug investigations as part of the York County Drug Task Force in conjunction with various local, state, and federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”). (Id.)

         According to the allegations contained in the Indictment, on or about May 2015, Defendant approached another Fairview Township police officer who, unbeknownst to Defendant, was working as a confidential informant for the FBI, and proposed that the two of them stop vehicles they suspected of trafficking narcotics and steal whatever drug proceeds those vehicles contained. (Id. at ¶ 2.) Defendant made the same proposal to the confidential informant in August of 2015, and on September 4, 2015, the confidential informant recorded a conversation between himself and Defendant in which Defendant again expressed his intention to steal drug proceeds from traffickers during traffic stops. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-4.)

         It is further alleged that, late in the evening of November 20, 2015, Defendant and the confidential informant participated in a search, pursuant to a warrant, of a home and a person leaving the home that lead to the recovery of multiple pounds of marijuana and $14, 092 in cash. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6, 11.) On November 21, 2015, Defendant recommended that the individual arrested pursuant to the search be released without criminal charges and directed the confidential informant to take $2, 000 out of the seized cash for the two of them to split equally. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.) Defendant then prepared a false report which stated that only $12, 092 was seized during the search. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Five days later, the confidential informant recorded a telephone call with Defendant, confirming that he had received his $1, 000 share of the cash, and Defendant also stated that he stole a pair of headphones during the search of the home. (Id. at ¶ 12.)

         On December 16, 2015, while Defendant and the confidential informant were working the same shift, the FBI conducted an undercover operation targeted at Defendant in which an FBI agent posed as a drug trafficker traveling through Fairview Township with a backpack containing $15, 000 in cash and 400 oxycontin pills. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14.) The confidential informant made a traffic stop of the vehicle, which was outfitted with recording devices, called for backup through York County dispatch, and Defendant arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. (Id. at ¶ 13.) The undercover FBI agent provided a fictitious name that corresponded with the name on a likewise fictitious federal warrant, and another FBI agent spoke with Defendant via telephone and instructed him not to search the vehicle because it was part of an FBI investigation. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Despite this instruction from the FBI, Defendant had the vehicle towed to a nearby garage and proceeded to search the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 17.) During his warrantless search of the vehicle, Defendant discovered and removed one of the hidden cameras, found the cash, and stole $3, 000 of it. (Id.) Defendant then gave $1, 000 of the stolen money to the confidential informant, who returned the money to the FBI. (Id.) Defendant never submitted as evidence any of the cash or the camera that he removed from the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

         On December 18, 2015, Defendant was arrested and subsequently placed on home detention after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing. (Doc. 19.) On January 27, 2016, a grand jury returned an eight-count Indictment against Defendant related to his illegal seizure and retention of property subject to federal investigation or seizure in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2232 (Counts 1 & 2); creating a false report in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) (Counts 3 & 4); impeding a drug trafficking investigation by a federal agency in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1519 (Counts 5 & 6); stealing property belonging to a federal agency in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 641 (Count 7); and making a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement regarding a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the United States Government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (Count 8). (See Doc. 25.)

         Defendant pleaded not guilty to all charges in the Indictment on February 9, 2016. (Doc. 31.) On March 31, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction as well as outrageous governmental conduct (Doc. 40), and the court dismissed Counts 3 and 4 on the basis that there was no official proceeding that Defended obstructed. (See Docs. 56 & 57.) Trial in this matter was scheduled to begin on September 6, 2016. On September 2, 2016, the Government filed a Superseding Information, charging that Defendant “did knowingly counsel, command, induce and procure the theft of $2, 000.00 belonging to the United States and did receive, conceal and retain $1, 000.00 of same with the intent to convert it to his own use and gain, knowing it to have been stolen, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 641, arising out of the November 21, 2015 incident. (Doc. 68.) That same day, Defendant entered into a plea agreement with the Government, in which he agreed to plead guilty to Count 7 of the Indictment, “which charges [D]efendant with a violation of [18 U.S.C. §641] (theft of government property), ” and “to a one count Information that will charge a violation of [18 U.S.C. § 641] (theft of government property), ” in exchange for dismissal of the remaining counts in the Indictment. (Doc. 70, pp. 1-2.)

         A change of plea hearing was held on September 6, 2016, at which the court accepted Defendant's guilty pleas to Count 7 of the Indictment and to the Superseding Information. At the change of plea hearing, Assistant United States Attorney William Behe reviewed the facts that the Government would present at trial in support of the Superseding Information as follows:

MR. BEHE: Yes, Your Honor. The Defendant, Mr. Baker, had been employed as a police officer with the Fairview Township Police Department in York County for approximately 17 years. During his employment as a Fairview Township police officer, Mr. Baker had at times worked on the York County Drug Task Force and had worked drug investigations with various local, state, and federal agencies, to include the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mr. Baker was entrusted with the investigation of criminal laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and assisted in the investigation of federal criminal laws primarily in the area of narcotics trafficking. He was authorized to carry a firearm and was empowered to make arrests and to conduct searches and seizures in furtherance of his duties to enforce the criminal laws.
In the spring and summer of 2015, Mr. Baker had conversations with a fellow Fairview Township police officer about stealing money from drug traffickers who might travel through Fairview Township. Mr. Baker did not realize that the officer who he was speaking with had approached the Federal Bureau of Investigation and agreed to be a confidential informant for them investigating allegations concerning Mr. Baker.
On September 4th of 2015, this individual and Mr. Baker had a conversation that was consensually recorded by the confidential informant in which Mr. Baker again expressed his desire to steal drug proceeds from drug traffickers that might come through the Township. This information deals with the offense that is charged in the information. The information is chronologically the first incident.
On November 20th of 2015, the confidential informant secured a search warrant from a local magistrate for a residence in the Township to search for drugs and drug proceeds. The confidential informant officer and other Fairview Township police officers had stopped an individual that was leaving a residence in the Township. A pat-down of that individual and a search of that person's vehicle led to the recovery of multiple pounds of marijuana and a large amount of United States currency in individual stacks comprised of hundreds and 50-dollar bills. Each stack totaled 1000 dollars.
The individual had been trafficking marijuana between Maryland and Pennsylvania in violation of both federal and state criminal laws. Between approximately 10:30 and 11 p.m. that night, Mr. Baker and other shift change personnel arrived at the scene of the search for the purposes of assisting in the completion of the execution of the search warrant.
At that time, the confidential informant police officer and Baker had conversations about the money that was seized and how much might be there. Mr. Baker was supposed to take the individual to the York County Prison for processing and booking. However, he took the individual back to the Fairview Township Police Station to conduct an interview.
On the way to and during the interview, Mr. Baker asked the drug trafficker several times what the amount of money was that the individual believed to have been recovered during the search. He also asked the individual to state the amount of ...

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