The interim director of University Security and Safety Affairs at Kentucky State University may have falsified information on her application, according to multiple officials from Newport News, Va.
On her application, obtained by The State Journal through an open records request, Belinda Baker claims she retired from the Newport News Police Department in 2005.
However, news articles and testimonies from officials and others connected to the situation tell a different story.
Baker, hired Feb. 8 following the Feb. 7 termination of former Chief of Police Stephanie Bastin, was indicted on a felony fraud charge in 2005 for making a false application for public assistance.
The charge stemmed from an investigation into dozens of public employees who filed Disaster Food Stamp claims after Hurricane Isabel swept through the area in 2003.
While no record of the arrest, indictment or disposition exists in Newport News Circuit Court records, the information was located in the LexisNexis court database.
According to the record, the case was filed April 11, 2005, and Baker was arrested April 14, 2005. The court reached a disposition of not guilty/acquitted on March 21, 2006.
Newport News Circuit Court Clerk Rex Davis said the record could have been expunged – which would explain the absence of a paper trail in the court system – but there’s no way to know for sure.
“If the Commonwealth decides not to prosecute the case, the person is eligible to petition the court to have it expunged,” Davis said via phone.
Sherri Lovelle was supervisor of fraud for the Department of Social Services in 2005 and “basically handed (prosecutors) the case on a silver platter,” according to a source who asked not to be named for fear of a lawsuit.
Lovelle died in July 2012, but the source said the fact that many of the cases were never prosecuted aggravated her enough that it eventually contributed to her departure from the department.
“She was furious,” he said.
“She wanted everybody to go to jail. It was deliberate fraud.”
But others said legal prosecution was never pursued because of informal negotiations – being fired in exchange for a clean record.
Shirley Culpepper, former director of the Newport News social services agency, told the Daily Press in 2005 that being fired is sufficient punishment for alleged fraud.
That may have been the case for Baker.
Kim Lee, spokeswoman for the city, confirmed four officers from the Newport News Police Department were fired Feb. 14, 2005, in relation to the fraud investigation, according to an article published Feb. 17, 2005, in the Daily Press.
When contacted by The State Journal, Lee said she no longer has notes from 2005 and cannot confirm the accuracy of the Daily Press article or that four officers were fired. Additionally, she said she generally refrains from using the term “fired” because Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act exempts personnel files from public view.
She was able to confirm the dates of Baker’s employment.
“I can tell you that Belinda Baker’s employment with the City of Newport News ended Feb. 14, 2005,” Lee said in an email.
An official employed by the Newport News Police Department, contacted earlier this week through the former Daily Press reporter who covered the situation, also confirmed Baker was among the officers fired in what is informally referred to as the “Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
He said Baker filed a grievance against the termination, but he believes the action was upheld.
Sue Houser, an official within the Newport News Human Resources Department, said even if an employee is fired, it does not necessarily mean the decision cannot be retracted later to allow the employee to retire – but it’s uncommon.
“It’s not really as black and white and cut and dry as you and I would like,” Houser said over the phone. “The answer is, unfortunately, anything is possible.”
Even if Baker was fired and later reached an agreement with the police department to retire, the retirement would not typically be permitted based on the rules of the retirement system.
Virginia’s Law Officers’ Retirement System allows law enforcement officers to retire at age 50 after 25 years of service for full benefits, or after five years of service for reduced benefits. Baker was 45 when she left the Newport News Police Department.
A retired Newport News detective, also contacted through the Daily Press reporter, said Baker is not on the list of official police retirees.
Even individuals hired on an interim appointment are subject to a mandatory pre-offer background check, according to KSU hiring procedures. However, the document does not call for employment verification.
Baker was reached at her office Feb. 26, but referred all questions to KSU spokeswoman Felicia Lewis.
The State Journal sent several questions to Lewis, asking whether Baker would like to comment on the felony indictment or the apparent discrepancy on her application.
Lewis, on behalf of the university, issued the following statement:
“The university had anticipated a long process of soliciting and hiring for the position (of) Director of University Security and Safety Affairs at the time Ms. Belinda Baker was brought onboard. Ms. Baker’s efforts as interim director are focused primarily on the stabilization of current operations. The university has no further comments.”
Reached for comment Friday morning, KSU President Mary Sias told The State Journal she was not aware of the apparent discrepancy.