The director of a nonprofit organization says he is withholding $80,000 owed to former Irvine City Councilman C. David Baker because he fears that paying it might violate the terms of Baker's sentencing last fall on a check forgery conviction.
Last November, when Baker received a year's probation, he promised a judge that he would perform part of his court-ordered community service by doing legal work and fund-raising for Sports Kids, a group founded by former Olympian Bob Mathias.
But while Baker was supposed to be volunteering his time to Sports Kids, the Irvine-based organization provided him with around-the-clock use of a 1989 Cadillac, according to Executive Director Chuck Foster. And five days before a judge declared that Baker's community service had been fulfilled, internal organization records reviewed by The Times indicate that Baker was given a full-time job with Sports Kids--for as much as $240,000 a year.
Baker left Sports Kids in April after working only four months, Foster said, and the $80,000 includes compensation as well as repayment of a personal loan. Foster said Sports Kids officials rejected Baker's request for an additional $24,000 as severance pay.
Baker did not return several calls for comment this week, but his attorney, Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa, said Baker didn't receive any form of compensation during his period of community service and did nothing in violation of his sentencing terms.
"There is absolutely nothing improper about the way Dave Baker conducted himself while on probation, which he performed above and beyond the intent of the sentence," Meyer said.
Nevertheless, Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Evans--who originally prosecuted the forgery case--said this week that he intends to investigate Baker's association with Sports Kids.
Evans declined further comment, but possible areas of inquiry were believed to focus on the extent to which court officials knew of Baker's dealings with Sports Kids at the time his community service was up for review.
In general, court officials say, people ordered to do community service are expected not to receive compensation.
Community service should involve "some sort of sacrifice" by the defendant, acting Presiding Superior Court Judge James Smith said Thursday.
Rod Speer, a spokesman for the Orange County Probation Department, said that when judges order community service, "there is no expectation of (the defendants') receiving compensation. . . . In fact, the individual should be compensating the community."
During a review of Sports Kids records and conversations with officials and Meyer, a picture emerged of Baker's relationship with the group and of his expectations of future employment. For example:
- In 1987, Baker, as an Irvine City Councilman, helped persuade Sports Kids officials to locate the organization in Irvine. And he became an active booster and occasional fund-raiser.
- Last November, just after beginning his community service work with the group, Baker and his father loaned Sports Kids $20,000.
- While doing his community service at Sports Kids, Baker submitted a proposal under which he could have earned up to $120,000 in salary and a bonus of the same amount, and received a telephone-equipped luxury car and an expense account.
In doing his community service work for the organization, Baker answered telephones, planned special events and developed a long-range business plan. Foster said Baker was given a car, as are all other Sports Kids executives.
Attorney Meyer acknowledged that Baker used the Cadillac, but said it was not his exclusively. And Meyer said Baker began full-time employment only after his community service term was over.
On the subject of the $80,000 Sports Kids now owes Baker, Foster said "we wanted to do the right thing. We will pay him (Baker) the amount . . . that we agreed to as soon as we find out that there is nothing illegal. . . . We want to honor the terms and the conditions of his community service and probation."
Baker, a 36-year-old lawyer, last summer was the early favorite in the congressional race to replace retiring incumbent Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach). But in the closing days of the GOP primary, his campaign ran short of cash. Baker, then executive director of the Irvine Health Foundation, made out a $48,000 check from that organization to himself and signed it with the forged signature of another officer, Superior Court Judge David G. Sills.
Baker stopped payment on the check shortly thereafter, and the forgery was not discovered until after the June primary election, which Baker narrowly lost.