Almost three years after his arrest and more than 20 delayed preliminary hearings, Sierra Telephone Co. President Harry Baker has been bound over for trial and will be arraigned June 8 on one count of an alleged lewd act with a 13-year-old girl in a Fresno hotel room in May 2007.
Fresno Superior Court Judge M. Bruce Smith made the ruling May 16 after a three-day preliminary hearing. The arraignment will take place at 8:30 a.m. in Fresno County Superior Court, Department 30 and is a step to having a jury trial date set.
Numerous pre-trial motions are expected to be made by Baker's attorney, Richard Berman, including a change in venue due to the large amount of media coverage the case has generated.
During last week's preliminary hearing, Smith reversed an earlier ruling not allowing a secret video, damaging to the Baker defense, as evidence and listened to the testimony of two girls who allegedly have had sexual encounters with Baker -- one that Baker's charges stem from and another from a witness of an alleged encounter with Baker in Las Vegas, of which no arrest has ever been made.
The judge changed his mind about the video after Michael Prado, a senior investigator with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), testified that Baker and his attorney, Richard Berman, willingly turned over a copy of the video to authorities. Smith ruled the video was evidence because Baker told the investigator the film accurately depicted what happened.
The 20-minute black and white video, made without Baker's knowledge, was recorded in a room at the Residence Inn in Fresno by a sophisticated clock with a video camera in it that was sitting on a night stand next to Baker's bed.
The teen testified May 22 that she secretly recorded Baker allegedly touching her naked body. The teen was with her 27-year-old cousin Lisa Marshall who, according to Prado's original report, engaged in sexual conduct with Baker on the video and urged the teen to participate in an effort to blackmail Baker. Authorities have been unable to locate Marshall since Baker's arrest.
Baker told investigators at the time that Marshall approached him and asked for $30,000 to help her mother, but Baker said no. Marshall then produced a CD and indicated that it was a copy of the May 2007 video. Baker subsequently complied and gave $30,000 to Marshall.
The video was not shown in court but Smith looked at it in his chambers and said "The conduct on the video was despicable."
Berman said the girl and her older cousin set Baker up, hiding the camera in the room and then asking Baker to check for lumps on the teen's body.
Berman said Baker will be vindicated at trial and his client was entrapped by a cleaver band of professional blackmailers.
Although Baker touched the teen, Berman said Baker had no intent to molest the girl for sexual gratification.
Prosecutor Becky Gong stated the video shows Baker fondling and kissing the breasts of the teen.
At the time of Baker's arrest, Berman said Baker met the girl's mother (Tillie Steve), years ago and became friends with the family. Telling Baker her husband was physically abusing her in the spring of 2007, she asked Baker to put her up in a hotel so she and her daughter would be safe. According to Berman, the mother asked Baker to get a room at the same hotel because she feared her husband would find her.
It was during that hotel stay that the girl, 13 at the time, said Baker fondled her while her mother was asleep in another room.
Soon after, according to Berman, family members of the girl began showing up at Baker's office at the phone company on Crane Valley Road (426) asking him for money. Berman said Baker came to him in August 2008 and told him he was being blackmailed and extorted due to the video and needed help. At the time Baker reported making payments to family members totaling $250,000.
Berman called federal authorities to report the extortion in August 2008.
Brian Poulsen, of the Fresno ICE office picked-up a copy of the video from Berman and soon after Prado viewed the video along with Fresno County Sheriff's Department detectives Kevin Wiens and Julie Williams, members of the Fresno Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force at the time. It was determined by the investigators that the video constituted child pornography.
Prado wrote a 36-page report over a five month period that detailed multiple interviews, clandestine meetings, video surveillance operations in Fresno and Oakhurst and monitored phone calls between Baker and the parties allegedly blackmailing him. The report stated that the girl's parents, Tillie Steve and Michael Frank and others are subjects of an ongoing investigation into child exploitation, child pornography and extortion. There findings have been turned over to the Fresno District Attorney's office and to date, no arrests have been made.
According to the report, additional payments were made to the juvenile girl's father ($50,000), Marshall's husband ($25,000) and the juveniles uncle, Eddie Frank ($80,000). The young girl's mother told investigators she had never seen the tape but was aware there was a "blackmail" of Baker taking place, although she did not participate in it.
Second juvenile testifies
A second teenage girl was called to the witness stand last week by Gong and she also testified that she had a sexual encounter with Baker at The Mirage in Las Vegas around August 2007 when she was 13 years old.
In October 2009 Las Vegas police announced they had received a complaint against Baker for his involvement with a 13-year-old from Martinez in Contra Costa County, although no arrest was made.
An eight-page report written by Contra Costa County Sheriff's Deputy C. Sanders in February 2008 at the request of the Las Vegas Police Department, details the girl's account of the alleged Las Vegas incident. The father, separated from the girl's mother at the time, also spoke with the investigator.
The teenager told Sanders that in August 2007 her mother took her on an airplane from Fresno to meet Baker at the Las Vegas hotel and that she was to stay with him in one of two rooms he rented. The report states the girl remembers going into the room and falling asleep on the bed and was awakened by Baker taking off her clothes and touching her.
The girl's father told the investigator that he used to be part of the Gypsy community in Fresno and Baker has been "purchasing children for approximately 20 years and that the Gypsies, including family members, sell their daughters and attack elderly for money."
"They look for sugar daddies," the father said to the investigator.
The father told the investigator that they call Baker "Leprechaun," because he gives gold medallion/coin necklaces to the girls he likes.
According to Deputy Sanders 2008 report, upon discovery of a medallion Martinez, the girl's grandmother asked the teenager where it came from and was told it came from her mother after she sold her to Baker. The father told the investigator that the girl's mother sold her for about $30,000.
Baker was the president of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce in 1963 and in 1988, he served his 12th and final year on the Madera County Board of Supervisors. He played a key role in the establishment of Yosemite High School and was the school district's first board president.
Due to his many years of support of education and large financial contributions, his name is on the Yosemite High School gymnasium, the YHS swimming complex, originally leased the land that the Oakhurst Community Park sits on for $1 a year and was originally attached to the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst when the club was established in 1998.
If convicted, Baker could face between three and eight years in prison.