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Penn Hills couple pleads guilty in embezzlement of $1.6 million

Thursday, March 23, 2000

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In their heyday of crime, Carolyn and Paul Baker took vacations to exotic places such as Aruba, the trail paved with someone else's gold.

The Bakers pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that Carolyn embezzled more than $1.6 million from her employer, and that the couple used the money for trips, jewelry, fine cigars and other luxuries.

Carolyn Baker, 64, and her husband, Paul, 62, entered their pleas before Common Pleas Administrative Judge Gerard M. Bigley.

She was charged with four counts of theft by deception, and one count each of receiving stolen property and criminal conspiracy. Her husband was charged with one count each of receiving stolen property and criminal conspiracy.

A prosecution affidavit claimed 54 separate incidents of theft involving the couple.

The money was taken from bank accounts that belonged to Carolyn Baker's employers, William and Ruth Anderson, a millionaire couple from Penn Hills who had made their fortune in the 1940s and 1950s building and selling houses.

The Bakers, of Dixie Drive in Penn Hills, have not been promised leniency in exchange for their guilty pleas.

"They just want to do the right thing," said their attorney, Joseph A. Paletta.

He said the Bakers could face jail time when they are sentenced May 17.

"I'm hoping there's no jail [time]. I will argue against it for reasons of medical conditions, age and lack of a prior record," Paletta said.

For more than 20 years, Carolyn Baker worked for the Andersons, whose business in recent years was scaled back to mortgage holdings and rental properties.

Baker was in charge of collecting rents and mortgages; she was authorized to sign checks and had access to the Andersons' business accounts.

Paletta said Baker made about $250 a week and had little or no supervision.

Assistant District Attorney Debra Barnisin said that, for most of the years Baker was employed, she was a dutiful worker. Then the Bakers became indebted to the Andersons, and part of Carolyn Baker's weekly earnings were being withheld by her employer.

When the Bakers started stealing, they went from a couple with financial problems to one that reveled in extravagance, Barnisin told Bigley.

Some of the Bakers' expenditures included two new Cadillacs bought in 1996, diamond bracelets, rings and other jewelry. They used more than $13,000 for two humidors and expensive cigars for Paul Baker. They took vacations to the Caribbean Islands and gambling trips to Atlantic City, N.J., where they owned a time-share apartment.

The Andersons reported the thefts in 1998 when Mellon Bank notified them of an overdraft on an account. Initial investigations by Penn Hills police showed that about $40,000 was missing.

While the Bakers were on a vacation in 1998, the Andersons' daughter, Kathy Anderson, noticed various discrepancies in the bookkeeping.

Further investigation showed that the thefts had started in 1991 when Baker took $52,000. The amounts increased annually from about $80,000 in 1992 to about $600,000 in 1996, Barnisin said.

Police and bank officials said a total of $1,604,618 was stolen.

The Andersons filed a civil lawsuit against the Bakers. John Chaffo, the Andersons' attorney, said he was not optimistic that his clients could recoup more than 10 cents on every dollar stolen. After the case broke, police impounded many items paid for with the Andersons' money.

The Bakers remain free on bond, pending sentencing.

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