East St. Louis police chief resigns, pleads guilty to federal charges
Just under two months after being re-named as East St. Louis' police chief, not only has Michael Baxton resigned from his post - he's also pleaded guilty to federal charges of stealing evidence and making false statements to federal investigators.
Baxton resigned abruptly Wednesday for what East St. Louis mayor Alvin Parks told Fox 2 were "personal reasons." However, a press release from the United States Attorney's Office says Baxton's departure was part of his agreement to plead guilty to the current federal charges against him.
Before he resigned Wednesday and pleaded guilty Thursday, the road Baxton took to his role as East St. Louis police chief was complicated with additional legal issues. Here's a quick timeline according to information in the release from the US Attorney's office:
- May 2011: Baxton was hired as police chief of Alorton, Ill.
- Oct. 14, 2011: Baxton was decertified as a police officer by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board after it was discovered Baxton had previously been convicted of two other felony charges, theft and burglary, in 1982. His record had been expunged in 1989.
- Nov. 17, 2011: Due to the fact that his record had been expunged, Baxton is re-certified as a police officer.
- Nov. 30, 2011: East St. Louis hired Baxton as police chief, for a second time. He previously quit the job in 2009 after his performance was called into question.
The most recent federal charges against Baxton surfaced via a covert federal investigation, in the works before Baxton was hired in Alorton, regarding "systemic corruption within the Village of Alorton by various public officials," the US Attorney's office said.
Federal officials said that they started to receive reports of Baxton giving favorable treatment to arrestees related to Alorton public officials, or to Baxton himself, in the months following his appointment as police chief.
Further, the officers reporting the issues to federal officials said that evidence was missing from the secure evidence room within Baxton's office and that some evidence under Baxton's control was not being sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab for testing.
In response, federal officials say they set up a sting operation in which they planted five Xbox 360 video game consoles in a vehicle and registered the car as stolen. Baxton responded to a call regarding an abandoned vehicle (the one loaded with the game consoles by federal officials), then allegedly took four of the consoles from the vehicle and directed the officer accompanying him to take the fifth console. The accompanying officer was assisting federal officials in an undercover capacity.
At first, when questioned by agents from the IRS and FBI on Jan. 5, Baxton allegedly denied ever stealing anything as a police officer, and then, when questioned more directly, allegedly admitted he'd stolen the four consoles and then helped to recover them, according to the US Attorney's office.
If convicted of the charges, Baxton faces a possible maximum of 15 years in prison.