Kidnap of ex-Madera county leader claimed in Modesto

The Fresno BeeSeptember 6, 2013 


MARK CROSSE/THE FRESNO BEE Harry Baker, at right, leaves the courtroom on May 5, 2011. Baker was in Fresno Superior Court for a preliminary hearing on charges he molested a young girl, that was scheduled to start today but was delayed until further notice. Baker is a former Madera County Supervisor.

MARK CROSSE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo

— Even for the larger-than-life Harry Baker, this story seemed over the top.

A caller at 1 a.m. Friday told Madera County sheriff's dispatch that Baker, a former county supervisor who runs a telecommunications company, had been kidnapped while in Modesto.

But 12 hours later, a sheriff's detective had tracked Baker down in his Oakhurst office and "eyeballed" him to make sure he was very much alive and well.

While sheriff's detectives were left trying to untangle the alleged kidnapping, Baker told them he never was held captive.

Chalk it up to another strange chapter in the legend of Harry Baker. Currently facing a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor in Fresno — Baker says he is being blackmailed — the 85-year-old also made news in June for firing a gun inside a motel room in Merced. In March 2012, he attended a Fresno court hearing looking beaten up. Baker said he had been mugged.

The latest bizarre events began with the phone call saying Baker had been kidnapped. A female caller told deputies that Baker was taken in Modesto, but was apparently driven back to Oakhurst to get money out of local banks. Then he was supposedly returned to Modesto, according to sheriff's reports.

Deputies were sent to Baker's home near Ahwahnee, but he wasn't there.

According to sheriff's spokeswoman Erica Stuart, the woman who called the authorities said ransom was demanded for Baker's release. Madera County detectives were told Baker's son was working to raise the money, but they couldn't locate him, either, Stuart said.

By Friday afternoon, Stuart said, the Sheriff's Department was finished with the case: "We can't confirm he was taken anywhere against his will. Either way, at 12:53 a.m. (Friday), we got a fallacious report that he was kidnapped."

Stanislaus County sheriff's officials and Modesto police said they were not informed about a potential kidnapping.

"We have no way of knowing the truth," Stuart said. "Our job is to find a person who is missing and find the kidnappers. We found the person who was kidnapped and he said it never happened."

One of Baker's lawyers spoke to him Friday afternoon. "He said it (the kidnapping) didn't happen and he is at work," said Fresno attorney Roger Nuttall. He also spoke with Baker about 4:45 p.m. Thursday, and there was no indication then that he was in any danger.

Baker, president of Sierra Telephone Co., faces the felony charge of committing a lewd and lascivious act with a minor. The charge stems from an alleged 2007 incident with a 13-year-old girl in a Fresno hotel room. His lawyers contend the girl and her family were blackmailing Baker.

In June, he was cited and released in Merced for shooting a gun inside the Travelodge Motel on Yosemite Parkway, just east of Highway 99.

When officers arrived at the motel, they found a hole in the wall of a room and two guns. Baker was stopped about a half mile away. He told police the gun discharged accidentally.

At the time, police could not say why Baker was in the motel, but he had been accompanied by a younger man earlier in the day, Merced police Lt. Tom Trinidad said. Other witnesses said they saw a woman go in and out of the room. Baker was released when the younger man promised to drive Baker home, Trinidad said.

In March 2012, Baker arrived for a hearing in Fresno County Superior Court with two black eyes, stitches on his forehead and a bruised mouth — injuries he said he suffered in a mugging.

Baker's health has 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.

Baker's name was on the Fresno County Superior Court docket Friday. The hearing was for a motion to dismiss the lewd and lascivious act charge. Nuttall said a decision was made last week to delay the case to Sept. 20.

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