Former undersheriff accused of embezzling $31K in unapproved overtime

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Former Barry County Undersheriff Bob Baker.

Former Barry County Undersheriff Bob Baker.

HASTINGS, Mich. -- A former undersheriff with the Barry County Sheriff's Department is now under investigation after being accused of embezzling thousands in unauthorized overtime pay.

Michigan State Police is currently investigating how Robert Baker collected $31,000 in overtime pay from the sheriff's department during a 26 month period. Investigators say he approved the overtime pay himself.

Internal investigation documents obtained by FOX 17 from the St. Joseph Sheriff's Department show Baker collected $1,099 in overtime pay in 2012, but that figured ballooned to $11,352 in 2013, followed by $16,649 in 2016.

In 2012, Baker’s year-end earnings, with overtime, were reported at $62,456. His earnings ballooned in 2013 to  $72,433, including overtime and then again in 2014 to $81,588 with overtime pay included.

Baker, a 42 year veteran of law enforcement was employed with the Barry County Sheriff's Department for more than a decade. Documents show Baker never took overtime pay during his first seven years as undersheriff, prompting suspicions which ultimately led to the investigation.

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who requested the independent 'fact-finding' investigation be conducted by the St. Joseph Sheriff's Department, also ordered Baker to retire after learning about the unusually large amounts of overtime pay he had approved for himself. According to the internal investigation documents, Leaf said the amount of overtime supposedly taken by Baker was "overboard."

The case has since been handed over to MSP for further investigation.

Leaf told FOX 17 he felt betrayed upon learning about the overtime inconsistencies which allegedly happened during the same time period staff at the department had been trying to cut overtime across the board, according to documents.

When confronted about the overtime, Baker told Leaf he could account for every nickel, the documents said.

“He was the one who handled the overtime for my office and I don’t know why he started taking overtime in pay," Leaf told FOX 17 on Wednesday. “I did not know he was taking any overtime.”

Baker told investigators several open internal investigations happening with the sheriff's department beginning in 2012 contributed to the increased amounts of overtime. It's a scenario Leaf said could be possible.

“He claims he can account for every minute of it" Leaf told FOX 17. "We were doing some very lengthy internal investigations on a couple of our employees and they were very lengthy, as in they started in 2012 toward the end of the year and went into 2013 and 2014."

When asked why he had never filed for overtime during the first seven years of his employment with the sheriff's department, Baker told investigators he didn't know he could take overtime because up until that point he believed he was a salaried employee, according to documents.

The investigation documents also say Baker later inquired with a county clerk who told him he was hourly, but he couldn't say for sure when that happened.

"He said he didn't realize he had worked that much overtime," investigators wrote in the report. "He said he was surprised he made that much overtime."

Michigan State Police investigators told FOX 17 it's too early into the investigation to determine if criminal charges will be filed.

“The public has a right to know," Leaf said. "If there’s something criminal, we have to handle that appropriately and with respect to the public because it’s their money, and if it’s something non-criminal we need to clear the man’s name.”

FOX 17 was unable to reach Baker by phone Wednesday for comment.

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