The former police chief for the Village of Alorton and the City of East St. Louis pled guilty in United States District Court in East St. Louis on January 19, 2012, to felony charges of stealing evidence and making false statements to federal investigators, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Stephen R. Wigginton, announced today. After his pleas of guilty, the former chief, Michael Baxton, Sr., 49, was released on bond, pending his sentencing, which is set for April 27, 2012 at 1:30 p.m..
“It is a sad day when law enforcement must pursue one of their own. There is no pleasure to be taken in convicting a police officer. The citizens of Southern Illinois should be continually assured that my office will never tolerate police misconduct in any fashion. By knowing that, citizens may be confident that they can place their trust in the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers who are honest and professional and who risk their lives every day for our safety.” said United States Attorney Wigginton.
In May, 2011, Baxton was hired by the Village of Alorton to serve as the police chief. Baxton was appointed to fill the vacancy created after the previous Alorton police chief, Robert L. Cummings, pled guilty to unrelated federal tax crimes. Baxton served as the Village of Alorton chief of police until October 14, 2011, when the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board decertified Baxton as a police officer after discovering that he had, at one time, received two felony convictions from 1982 (theft of more than $150, in Madison Co. case 81-CF-751; and burglary, in Madison Co. case 81-CF- 752).
On November 17, 2011, a St. Clair County judge reinstated Baxton’s law enforcement credentials based on the fact that Baxton’s felony convictions had been expunged in 1989. After being reinstated to serve as a police officer, Baxton was hired by the City of East St. Louis to be that city’s police chief on November 30, 2011. He served in that capacity until January 18, 2012, when he resigned as part of his agreement to plead guilty to the current felony charges.
The current charges against Baxton were unrelated to his decertification by the Illinois Police Training and Standards Board, as there was an ongoing covert federal investigation already underway at the time Baxton was hired. This investigation concerned allegations of systemic corruption within the Village of Alorton by various public officials. In the months following his appointment, certain Alorton police officers reported to federal investigators that Baxton intervened to provide favorable treatment to arrestees who were family members or associates of a particular Alorton individual, or of Baxton, the police chief. Those officers further alleged that evidence under the custody and control of the chief was not being sent to the Illinois State Police crime laboratory for testing, and other evidence was missing from the secure evidence room within the chief’s office. It was alleged that Baxton and this other Alorton individual were stealing evidence for their personal use and/or profit. Based upon these facts, federal investigators decided to conduct a proactive integrity test on October 5, 2011.
On that date, federal agents arranged for a federally owned covert vehicle to be registered to a fictitious Illinois business and to be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database as stolen. The purportedly stolen vehicle was loaded with five Xbox 360 video gaming consoles that had been purchased by the FBI for the sting operation. Baxton responded to the call of an abandoned vehicle along with a Village of Alorton police officer who was assisting the federal investigation in an undercover capacity. When Baxton discovered the electronics in the purportedly stolen car, he took four of the devices and directed the other officer to take the fifth one.
On January 5, 2012, Baxton was interviewed by agents from the IRS and FBI. During that interview, Baxton denied ever taking anything while working as a police officer. When confronted with the fact that agents knew gaming consoles had been stolen, Baxton at first blamed another officer for theft; stating that the other officer took all of the devices and that Baxton should not have allowed the other officer to do so. When confronted more directly, Baxton then admitted taking four Xbox gaming consoles himself. He apologized and assisted in recovering each of the four game systems that were stolen on October 5, 2011.
The crime of theft of government property is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years’ supervised release upon release from prison. The crime of making a false statement to a federal law enforcement officer is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and not more than three years’ supervised release upon release from prison. However, the United States Sentencing Guidelines must be applied to the case and considered by the court during sentencing.
United States Attorney Wigginton praised the dedication and professionalism of the agents working with the Metro East Public Corruption Task Force, including the cooperative efforts of agents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Illinois State Police, the Columbia, Illinois, Police Department, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office, St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. United States Attorney Wigginton noted that public corruption convictions continue to increase in his office and that he has cast a very wide net to ensnare corruption wherever it exists. “Corrupt public officials should be on notice—we are coming for you.” United States Attorney Wigginton declared.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Steven D. Weinhoeft and Norman R. Smith.