Belleville News-Democrat, bnd.com
BYLINE: CAROLYN P. SMITH - News-Democrat
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East St. Louis, IL
Michael Baxton in a 2008 file photo.
A federal judge sentenced former East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Baxton to a year in prison Friday afternoon.
Baxton's sentencing stemmed from his conviction for taking five Xbox 360 game consoles from the trunk of a car Oct. 5 and then lying to the FBI.
U.S. District Judge David Herndon could have given Baxton probation or up to six months on the theft charge, but instead, he went beyond the federal sentencing guideline.
Prosecutors and the defense agreed that the sentence should be "sufficient, but not greater than necessary." They differed, though, in whether Baxton should go to prison or get probation, do community service or get home confinement.
Defense attorney John O'Gara argued for probation or community service.
He said Baxton lost the opportunity to do police work ever again and will have difficulty getting employment. He said Baxton will face a lifetime of ridicule because he will be remembered as a crooked cop, then discussed Baxton's good years in law enforcement.
"He knows what he did. He stole and he lied. He feels it as well," O'Gara said.
O'Gara argued that sending Baxton to prison might put him in harm's way at the hands of some of the people or relatives of people he's sent to prison.
Herndon gave Baxton an opportunity to speak before he was sentenced. It took Baxton several minutes to compose himself. He was shaking and crying. He was given a glass of water and some tissues, and it still took several more minutes until he gathered himself enough to publicly apologize to his family, the judge and prosecutors for his actions.
"I don't blame the prosecutors," he said.
In a somewhat choked voice, he apologized to the federal team for having to bring him to court. He said he took full responsibility for his lapse in judgement.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton said he was pleased Baxton will go to prison for as long as prosecutors requested.
"I hope that law enforcement officials will understand that there are serious consequences to wrongdoing. Ninety-nine percent of them are good law-abiding people who protect us. Unfortunately there are individuals like Michael Baxton, and when they do wrong there will be consequences," Wigginton said.
Herndon gave Baxton a year sentence to make sure he will serve the full sentence.
Baxton was police chief in Alorton when he stole the Xbox gaming consoles, valued at about $400 each. When federal agents interviewed him and he lied to them, he was chief of police in East St. Louis.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Weinhoeft said that, after Baxton was caught, he "tried to blame" an undercover officer posing as the new Alorton officer Baxton was training.
"The chief of police is suppose to be the leader in the department and the community. He sets the tone for the department and the people he supervises," Weinhoeft told Herndon.
Baxton's family, including his wife, Williemae Baxton, and son Michael Baxton Jr., were in the courtroom Friday.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney targeted Alorton after reports of favoritism, corruption and drug dealing surfaced. Alorton police officers soon reported to federal agents that Baxton was favoring suspects who were family members or associates of a "particular Alorton official" or of Baxton.
The local officers also said Baxton and the other Alorton official were stealing and either selling or using evidence from the locked evidence room in the chief's office.
On Oct. 5, the FBI tested Baxton's honesty by reporting a car as stolen and loading the trunk with Xbox 360 gaming consoles that they purchased.
Baxton told the undercover officer he was training to take one of the game consoles. Baxton gave three others away and kept one.
Baxton was unaware that he'd been caught stealing when he left Alorton and took the East St. Louis police chief's job on Nov. 30. Federal officials confronted him Jan. 5
He resigned from the East St. Louis job on Jan. 18 and pleaded guilty the next day to federal charges of theft and lying to federal agents.
Federal court records show there was an ongoing covert investigation into the village of Alorton when Baxton was hired as Alorton police chief in May. He replaced Police Chief Robert Cummings after Cummings was convicted of federal tax crimes.
In January, federal agents raided Alorton Village Hall and the home of Alorton Mayor Randy McCallum. McCallum said they were investigating village tax increment financing operations and that he'd done nothing wrong. He siad he was "clean as a whistle."
That later proved to be untrue,
McCallum has since pleaded guilty to corruption charges, including trying to sneak contraband into the St. Clair County jail, and awaits sentencing in June.
Alorton's former street superintendent, Ronnie D. Cummings, 39, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearm ammunition and making false statements to federal law enforcement officers. He was indicted in January as part of the corruption probe and is awaiting sentencing.
Former East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Baxton (right) listens as his attorney, John O'Gara, speaks to him as the two leave the U.S. District Courthouse in East St. Louis. Baxton was sentenced to one year in federal prison after stealing video game consoles and then lying to federal agents about it. The consoles were left in a car as part of the federal sting.
- Tim Vizer/BND
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