(UPDATE) Harry Baker safe after reported kidnapping

After speaking with a detective by phone Friday afternoon, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson was convinced that Harry Baker was safe, after an earlier report that Baker has been kidnapped.

The search is over but the investigation continues as to who made the original phone call.

“Our office takes these calls very seriously and resources were exhausted by this department in an effort to find Harry Baker and make sure he was safe and unharmed,” said Erica Stuart, sheriff’s office public information officer.

In a Sept. 6 Fresno Bee on-line story by Pablo Lopez and Marc Benjamin, Anderson said he was first apprised of the suspected kidnapping early Friday after an unidentified woman called from Oakhurst to report that Baker was kidnapped.

When deputies went to the home where the woman called from, the residents were uncooperative, said Anderson.

Deputies also drove to the residential compound where Baker lives along Avenue 619 between Oakhurst and Ahwahnee and did not find him.

Sheriff's officials say they then learned Baker was in Modesto when he was kidnapped and was apparently driven back to Oakhurst to take money out of two banks. Baker and the suspects then apparently returned to Modesto according to the Bee story.

Stuart said the woman who called the Sheriff's office said a ransom demand was made for Baker's release.

“We are taking this call quite seriously,” she said. “At this point, we don’t know if this is valid or not.”

Baker, 85, the owner of Sierra Telephone, is scheduled to be in Fresno County Superior Court Sept. 20 for a hearing on his felony charge of committing a lewd and lascivious act with minor. The charge stems from an alleged 2007 incident in a Fresno hotel room with a 13-year-old girl.

His lawyers contend the girl and her family were blackmailing Baker. The hearing is a motion by the defense to dismiss the charge.

Baker’s health also caused several delays in his court case. Two summers ago, he underwent open-heart surgery and received an artificial aortic valve, according to his attorney at the time.

According to Baker’s lawyers, he was alone in a Fresno hotel in May 2007 and dressed in a bathrobe when the 13-year-old girl and another woman showed up nude. Baker was videotaped fondling the girl, according to a Fresno County Superior Court affidavit for Baker’s arrest.

The affidavit said Baker told authorities that he subsequently paid $250,000 to the girl’s family as part of a blackmail scheme.

According to the police affidavit, Baker paid for two rooms at the Residence Inn from May 12 to May 14, 2007. Before going to the hotel, the girl’s family had purchased a sophisticated clock with a hidden video camera. They later set up the camera device in Baker’s motel room without his knowledge.

-Staff Report